Adelaide’s Story

Adelaide Hunter, the youngest of 13 children, was born in 1857 here at the Homestead. Her father, David Hunter, died a few months after her birth leaving her mother, Jane Hamilton Hunter, a widow. Jane rose to the challenge of managing the farm and a large household and no doubt provided Adelaide with a powerful role model for the woman she would eventually grow up to be.

After her years in a one-room schoolhouse, Adelaide stayed with her older sister Lizzie while attending Ladies College in Brantford, Ontario. While there, she met John Hoodless. He was the only surviving son of a successful Hamilton furniture manufacturer. When they married, she exchanged the name ‘Addie’ for ‘Adelaide’. She also exchanged her life as a hard-working girl in a full and busy rural farmhouse for the life of a Victorian socialite. Supported by servants in the upkeep of a fine home, Adelaide and John had four children.

Then personal tragedy struck: John Harold died at age of 14 months.  There has been speculation that he may have drank contaminated milk. Adelaide was devastated and being such a dedicated and doting mother, we believe she blamed herself for John’s death.

It was after John Harold’s death that Adelaide’s public life began. She wanted to ensure that women had the knowledge to prevent deaths like those of her beloved John.

She became the second president of the Hamilton branch of the Y.W.C.A., a role she used to work towards the establishment of domestic science education. In January of 1897, the Minister of Education asked Adelaide to write a textbook for Domestic Science courses. This became known as the ‘Little Red Book’. It stressed the importance of hygiene, cleanliness and frugality.

In addition to these projects, Adelaide travelled all over the province speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Education. She was a lively and engaging speaker: “Is it of greater importance that a farmer should know more about the scientific care of his sheep and cattle, than a farmer’s wife should know how to care for her family?” Mr. Erland Lee, of Stoney Creek, was at this talk, and it resonated with him. He asked Adelaide to speak at his Farmer’s Institute “Ladies Night” meeting, on February 12, 1897. When she spoke that night, she suggested forming a group with a purpose to broaden the knowledge of domestic science and agriculture as well as to socialize. Adelaide returned one week later on February 19, 1897 to find 101 women in attendance. This group was to become the first branch of the ‘Women’s Institute’, with Adelaide as honorary president.

Adelaide had met Lady Aberdeen through her work with the National Council for Women. Now concerned about families living in isolated surroundings with little or no access to medical care, Lady Aberdeen sought Adelaide’s support. Her own campaign merged nicely with this goal. Adelaide worked with Lady Aberdeen to establish a Canadian branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses.

By October of 1902, the Ministry of Education was about to make domestic science a regular part of curriculum in Ontario schools. But Adelaide already had her sights on the next step. She wanted Domestic Science to be offered at the university level. She knew she needed a wealthy patron to finance the project. She approached Sir William MacDonald, a wealthy Montreal non-smoker, who had made his money in tobacco. She persuaded him to fund two programs – one in Ontario and one in Quebec.

In 1907, the Women’s Institute marked its 10th anniversary by commissioning Toronto artist John Wycliffe Lowes Forster to paint her portrait. Adelaide’s daughter later said that the artist captured some of her mother’s determination and charm.

On February 26, 1910, Adelaide travelled by train to Toronto to speak at St. Margaret’s College on “Women and Industrial Life”. Ten minutes after she began speaking, her voice faltered. She was given some water. She took a sip, said 4 more words and collapsed on the floor. Adelaide Hoodless had died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  She was buried in Hamilton, March 1, 1910.

She died one day short of her 53rd birthday.