Women's Institute fonds

Aspen Women's Institute meeting minutes, 3 October 1914

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Women's Institute fonds

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  • Textual record
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2014.005; 2016.003; 2018.001; 2018.016

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  • 1914 - 2018 (Creation)
    Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia

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Physical description

114 cm of textual records; 97 photographs: b&w

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Administrative history

The Women's Institute has its organizational roots in rural Ontario. The first branch was formed in 1897, at a time when rural women lived in isolation and often with little or no education. Farmers had organized as the Farmers' Institute but there was nothing similar for their wives.

The beginnings of Women's Institutes in Nova Scotia are due also to the influence of Nelville Cumming. In 1911, Dr. Cumming, then principal of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and Secretary of Agriculture for the province, visited Ontario. Upon returning to Nova Scotia, he recommended to the provincial government that the organization be established here. In 1913, Miss Jennie Fraser of New Glasgow, a graduate of MacDonald College, was appointed superintendent of the Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia.

With the assistance of Mrs. Laura (Rose) Stephen of Ontario, the first Institute was organized in Salt Springs, Pictou County on 17 July 1913. In 1919, Miss Helen J. MacDougall took over the position of superintendent and remained with the organization for the next 26 years. Also in 1919, the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC) was formed to coordinate the work of the provinces and became the national voice for rural women in Canada.

Custodial history

The records were in the possession of Women’s Institute branch executives until deposit with Historic Sherbrooke Village and the St. Mary’s Genealogy Research Centre at Sherbrooke Village. Record books were donated by Women's Institute Guysborough District officials in 2014, 2016, and 2018.

Scope and content

Fonds consist of records documenting the work and operation of seven Women’s Institute branches in the western region of Guysborough County: Denver-Newtown (1914-2012), Aspen-Glenelg (1914-1998), Sherbrooke (1914-1924), Port Hilford (1955-2000), Sonora (1931-1975), Seal Harbour-Drumhead (1968-1982), Port Bickerton (1949-2018). Also included are records of the wider Guysborough District of the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia (1964-1998).

The fonds include 51 books consisting of minutes of meetings, financial accounts, reports, membership lists, lists of directors and officers, and records of attendance. Interleaved within the books are miscellaneous receipts and correspondence. One photograph album with captions showing day-to-day life in the communities of Denver and Newtown (circa 1955), and “A History of the Village of Sherbrooke and Vicinity” (1947), created as part of the Tweedsmuir Village Books national competition.

By 1914, Women’s Institute branches had formed in the communities of Newtown, Aspen-Glenelg, and Sherbrooke in Guysborough County following a visit by Miss Jennie Fraser, Superintendent of the Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia. The Women’s Institute branches represented in the fonds were formed on the following dates:

Newtown (later Denver-Newtown) –– 31 August 1914. Still active.
Aspen-Glenelg –– 29 August 1914. Dissolved 1996.
Sherbrooke –– 27 August 1914. Still active.
Port Hilford –– 10 December 1948. Still active.
Sonora -- 26 November 1931. Still active.
Seal Harbour-Drumhead –– ca. 1937. Dissolved 1982.
Port Bickerton -- 20 July 1949. Dissolved 7 May 2018.

The Guysborough District of the Women’s Institutes of Nova Scotia established educational programs for local women, held regular meetings and events, and convened district rallies. Early work of the Newtown (later Denver-Newtown), Aspen-Glenelg and Sherbrooke Women’s Institute branches centered on war relief and supporting the Red Cross through knitting socks and wristlets and making handkerchiefs and cheesecloth bandages. On 6 April 1917 the Sherbrooke branch resolved to support women’s right to vote. Meetings were often centered on themes concerning home economics, agriculture, health and welfare, readings and recitations. Lunches were frequently served at meetings, and institute picnics and banquets were popular. The branches evolved over the years in terms of activity and membership, with later members supporting graduating high school students through bursaries.

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Physical condition

Some record books are fragile

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  • English

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Open to researchers without restrictions

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General note

Nearly all record books for the Guysborough District of the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia were burnt on June 10, 1964 at the home of Mrs. Everett Kirk, District Secretary.

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