Welcome to our assemblage of 77 Tweedsmuir History volumes from our archival collection which have been digitized, one page at a time. The pages have been scanned by an O.C.R. engine (software which recognizes typed letters and words) to make them searchable. Please note that when pages are handwritten, or faded, they are only partially searchable. You can also search and view photographs.
There have been more WI branches in Grey than profiled here in reference to Tweedsmuir Histories made available by the project. If you are interested in a branch you don't see here, see Federated Women's Institute of Ontario resource charting branches across Ontario since in 1897. [External link]
Tweedsmuir Histories are intensely local, scrapbook style history books, compiled by Women’s institute branches and named after Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir, the Governor General of Canada from 1935-1940 and his wife. Lady Tweedsmuir was an enthusiastic Women’s Institute member in England and, while in Canada, she was made an Honorary Life Member of the Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario. As she and her husband travelled across Canada, they took great interest in all aspects of Canadian life, and she advocated for Women’s Institute branches to compile community and village histories.
In 1940 her suggestion materialized when the Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario began the initiative for branches to compile “Village History Books”. In 1945 an article entitled “Suggestions for Compiling Tweedsmuir Village Histories” was published in Home and Country, the official newsletter of the F.W.I.O., and by 1946 the word “village” was dropped to encourage those branches not covering villages or towns to begin their own histories. Upon hearing of the history books becoming an official project, Lady Tweedsmuir sent this message to the Federated Women’s Institute of Ontario:
I am so glad to hear that the Women’s Institutes of Ontario are going to compile village history books. Events move very fast nowadays; houses are pulled down, new roads are made, and the aspect of the countryside changes completely sometimes in a short time. It is a most useful and satisfying task for Women’s Institute members to see that nothing valuable is lost or forgotten and women should be on the alert always to guard the traditions of their homes, and to see that water colour sketches and prints, poems and prose legends should find their way into these books. The oldest people in the village will tell us fascinating stories of what they remember, which the younger members can write down, thus making a bridge between them and events which happened before they were born. After all, it is the history of humanity which is continually interesting to us, and our village histories will be the basis of accurate facts much valued by historians of the future. I am proud to think that you have called them “The Tweedsmuir Village Histories.”
— Lady Tweedsmuir
Although each Tweedsmuir book follows a basic model for what type of information to include, and how to organize it, they each have their own style. While some volumes have hand-made or decorated covers, and typewritten entries, others have more plain covers, or are handwritten. Some are like photo albums, full of photographs and mementos, while others contain more newspaper articles and still others have many stories and first-hand accounts of events and happenings. Despite these differences, they all contain a wealth of information covering church, school and property histories, as well as branch contributions, community events, local war efforts, biographies of important people and more.
Operating under the motto “For Home and Country,” the many branches of the Women’s Institute have been serving Grey County for more than 100 years. The first branch established in Grey County was the Kemble Women’s Institute. Organized just six months after the charter branch at Stoney Creek in 1897, it was the third branch established in the world. Over the years, 99 branches have come into and out of existence, with only 19 remaining active today.
The Women’s Institute was founded by Adelaide Hoodless to fill the need of educating rural women in matters of homemaking and child care, but before long, their mandate spread to include the betterment of life in rural communities, and indeed, the world at large. Though not always credited, the Women’s Institutes of Grey County have been paramount to many developments and causes. Too numerous to list them all, some significant contributions include: establishing home economics and music classes in public schools, financing and putting up street signs, assisting with 4-H clubs, helping to establish the Owen Sound-Grey County Museum and the Grey County Archives (now amalgamated at Grey Roots Museum & Archives), donating funds and materials to hospitals, Children’s Aid, schools and libraries, and holding fundraisers, bake sales, bazaars, teas and auctions.
Another contribution which has been highly overlooked is the village history books that have been compiled since 1940. The village histories, called "Tweedsmuir Histories," have been compiled by individual branches of the W.I. and contain an abundance of valuable information that not only record the activities and contributions of each branch, but also detailed history about the area served by the branches. In an effort to make these books more accessible we have digitized them, put them online and created a search tool to help find information on a given topic, person, location or W.I. branch. The majority of the volumes are fully searchable, leaving only a few handwritten books partially searchable.
The digitization process involved scanning the covers and every page of each Tweedsmuir. To avoid damage, the pages were removed from the books and scanned individually, then returned to their original position. For pages with photographs on them, an additional high-resolution scan was done for each photo to enable the clear viewing. When the digitization project began there were 31 Tweedsmuirs in our collection, some with more than 200 pages. As word spread about the project, the response was overwhelming with 20 additional Tweedsmuirs being donated, one temporarily, bringing our total collection to 51. After more than 600 hours of scanning, 32 of these books have been digitized, however the remaining volumes will be added as time permits. Contained in these 32 Tweedsmuirs are over 5000 pages of information and 3800 photographs. These numbers will grow as more volumes are added.
The result of all this hard work is “For Home and Country: The Women’s Institutes of Grey County.” We hope you enjoy this online exhibit and all of the unique information contained within. Complete with a search tool, the Tweedsmuirs will be a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, students, teachers and anyone with an interest in local history. The content of these books is relevant to the Ontario public school curriculum for grades 2, 3, 7 and 8. View a teacher’s programming guide.
This project was made possible through financial contributions from the Canadian Culture Online Program of Canadian Heritage, Library and Archives Canada (administered through the Canadian Council of Archives), as well as the Grey County Historical Society, the Dromore W.I., the Gleneden W.I., the Zion Friendship Group, the Woodland Springs W.I., the Osprey W.I., the Ayton W.I., Ruth Thomas and Viola Bothwell. We are also grateful to our many community supporters including the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library, the Grey Highlands Public Library, the Grey Unit of the Retired Teachers of Ontario, and the Owen Sound branch of the Retired Women’s Teachers’ Organization.
We appreciate your input, please contact us with corrections, comments or suggestions.
Women's Institute Founder - Adelaide Hunter Hoodless
The youngest of thirteen children, Adelaide Hunter, was born to Jane Hunter on February 27, 1857, her father, David Hunter, having passed away just a few months earlier. Born near St. George, Ontario, it was here that she received her formal education.
After marrying a businessman, John Hoodless, at the age of 24, she moved to Hamilton where the couple raised a family of four. When her first child died at the age of eighteen months from drinking unpasteurized milk, she felt it could have been avoided if she had been more educated. This tragedy inspired her to set about making sure that more women were educated in matters of “domestic science” and she began pushing for courses to be taught in Hamilton public schools.
Having created a stir in that endeavour, she had garnered a reputation for being an entertaining speaker and was invited to speak at the annual meeting of the Farmer’s Institute in 1896, where the main focus of discussion was the health of farm animals. When she took the podium she advocated that the health of family be put above that of the animals, and in doing so, moved one man, Erland Lee, to invite her to speak at his local Farmer’s Institute’s next meeting. At this meeting, to which both men and women had been invited, it was suggested that some type of organization for women be established to study and improve homemaking, in the way that the Farmer’s Institutes worked to improve farming. So a meeting was planned for the following Friday night, to give some time to advertise, and an attendance of thirty-five was expected. Support was much stronger than anticipated when on February 19, 1897 one hundred and one women and one man (Erland Lee) crowded into Squire’s Hall, in the village of Stoney Creek, to organize the first branch of the Women’s Institute.
Knowing the time limitations of rural women, the Women’s Institute held “short courses,” often in the homes of members, and taking only an afternoon, so that the members could gain important knowledge and skills without sacrificing responsibilities at home. The topics covered at the short courses were highly varied and limited only to that which pertained to “a better understanding of the economic and hygienic value of foods,” “the scientific care of children,” and “any line of work for the uplifting of the home or the betterment of conditions surrounding community life,” as defined in the constitution of the Women’s Institute. The guests and instructors at these meetings would give a talk and then begin the lesson, which almost always took a “hands on” approach. Some branches would send a delegate to a given short course, who, upon returning, would teach the rest of the members at the next meeting.
Clearly satisfying a widely felt need, the popularity of the Women’s Institute grew quickly with 30,000 members from 888 branches recorded in Ontario in 1914. From the sorrow of a grieving mother grew an international institution with Women’s Institutes today recording 9 million members in 70 countries. Though the beginnings were humble, Adelaide Hoodless felt the need for an ongoing effort to better the lives of women and rural people everywhere, or as one paper put it “She had the prophet’s vision of what ought to be and nobly took upon herself the burden of the voice crying in the wilderness.”