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TimeLinks: Women's Institutes of Manitoba (Home Economics Societies)

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Hartney Women's Institute Domestic life at the turn of the century was fraught with perils, many of them preventable. Movements flourished in cities to try to improve the moral and sanitary environment in which people lived, and Public Health movements, many of them inspired by the Social Gospel, thrived.

In rural areas, a different set of circumstances called for a different level of organization. Isolation and loneliness were pervasive for rural residents, particularly women. Limited contact with the outside world made it difficult for many farm women to obtain vital information about family health care and home-making.

Rural health activists and social reformers in Manitoba recognized the value in having a mutual support network available to assist farm women, and in 1910 a group of women petitioned Premier Rodmond Roblin for assistance in establishing a series of rural Home Economics Societies, modelled after similar organizations that had been established in Ontario in the preceding decade.

The government, recognizing the value in such an enterprise, provided funding through the Agricultural Extension Services. That summer, Miss M. Juniper and Miss M. Kennedy, professors in Home Economics at the Manitoba Agricultural College, made a twenty-three community lecture tour of rural Manitoba to promote the idea. Seventeen of these communities established Home Economics Societies.

Once formed, these societies began a variety of community service projects, and they offered short courses in dressmaking, cooking, food preservation, child care and household management. Much like the Boys' and Girls Clubs, which taught farm and living skills to rural youth, the Home Economics Societies met the needs of both the province and the women it served.

Some Home Economics Societies became involved in advocating for the rights of women, including better divorce and property laws and support for the temperance and suffrage movements. Prominent suffrage leaders like Nellie McClung and Lillian Beynon Thomas and E. Cora Hind recognized the value of the Home Economics Societies in helping women find community and assert their independence, and helped to create links between the societies and their urban counterparts in seeking a social and political voice for women's needs.

In 1919, a national convention was held in Winnipeg with representatives from all provinces. A new national organization, the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada was formed, and the Home Economics Societies continued their work in co-operation with national and international counterparts under the name of "Women's Institutes of Manitoba".

Page revised: 27 August 2009

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