Women’s Institutes Banner, Compton County
Organization: Compton County Women’s Institutes
Address: St. Paul Anglican Church Hall, Bury, QC J0B 1J0
Contact: Sandra Morrison, 819-872-3657
Description: Quilted banner to commemorate the work of the Compton County Women's Institutes.
Year made: 2011
Made by: Sandra Morrison and Serena Wintle
Colours: Blue, green, white, brown, gold
Provenance: Bury, Quebec
Size: 54.6 cm x 42.5 cm
Photos: Rachel Garber. Courtesy Compton County Women’s Institutes
Compton County Women’s Institute Banner
Brenda Hartwell and Serena Wintle
History books are full of accounts chronicling the deeds of men. Women’s accomplishments are rarely mentioned, and yet, if we examine a country’s social history, we find that women play an enormous role in moving a society forward. The power of women to affect significant and meaningful social change is evident in the work of the Compton County Women’s Institutes (W.I.).
To commemorate the work accomplished by the Compton County W.I., a banner was quilted and embroidered by Sandra Morrison and Serena Wintle in 2011. This banner proudly bears the inscription, “Compton County W.I.” and hangs in St. Paul’s Anglican Church Hall, Bury, Quebec, where it can be viewed by the public during events, or by special request.
The Compton County Women’s Institutes, once comprised of 12 senior and three junior branches, were members of the national organization that was founded in 1897 by Adelaide Hoodless of Stoney Creek, Ontario. In 1911, Quebec’s first branch of the Women’s Institute was established at Dunham, in Missisquoi County. On December 20, 1912, a large crowd gathered in the Methodist Church Hall in Cookshire to hear an address by Miss Laura Rose Stephens. Her speech inspired women in Compton County to form Quebec’s second W. I. branch. The Women’s Institute quickly spread from province to province across Canada, and, in 1919, was known as the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada. The W. I. movement expanded to include other countries, and by 1925, the Women’s Institute was the second largest women’s organization in the world.
Education was a fundamental element in the W. I. movement, and to this end, the Compton County W. I. sponsored a variety of courses, taught by technicians from Macdonald College. For example, in 1923, the Cookshire W. I. sponsored a Cooking and Sewing Class. “Miss Poole of Macdonald College gave instruction to 25 girls. During five days, the forenoons were spent in cooking which included learning how to can fruits and vegetables and how to make fancy salads and hot supper dishes. In the afternoons lessons in sewing were given; and each girl made a dress during the week” (Rowell, p. 67).
Over the years the Compton County W.I. sponsored many demonstrations, including Home Nursing, Milk and Eggs, Canning Meat and Rug Making. They hosted informative addresses on a wide range of topics, such as Child Welfare, Better Schools, Child Diseases and Immunization, Agriculture, and Laws Governing Married Women in the Province of Quebec. The W.I. also employed the radio as an outreach and educational tool. A member of the Bury branch gave the first C.C.W.I. broadcast in September 1947 (Rowell, p. 49).
In 1959, W.I. members were instrumental in establishing a museum in the decommissioned Congregational church (built in 1841) in Eaton Corner. Members of the Compton County W.I. were very involved in community service at the local level. They established many of the county’s first libraries, financed water fountains and lighting systems for local schools, contributed to the Cod Liver Oil Fund and school lunch programs, and partnered with the Department of Agriculture to organize school fairs. They financed inoculations against diseases and provided aid to the needy, the sick, shut-ins and those who had lost their homes to fire.
Currently, the Compton Co. W.I. is justifiably proud of the fact that they have been presenting bursaries to deserving students for 61 years. Since the first award in 1951, 249 bursaries have been awarded, totalling $37,400. It should be noted that many of the fundraising activities, such as the suppers, quilting bees and dances which financed W.I. initiatives also provided social opportunities, reduced isolation for rural dwellers and fostered a sense of community.
The motto of the W.I. organization is: “For Home and Country.” Patriotism has been an important component, as witnessed by an article written by Mrs. Finlay Bennett: “In the early years we worked tirelessly for the Red Cross, for we were at war in 1914. All you could hear was the click of knitting needles. We knit through all the meetings, through entertainments, some I believe in church” (Rowell, p. 23). The Sawyerville branch reported that during the First War “their efforts were devoted to Patriotic work.… They made 206 pairs of socks, 64 pillowslips, 2 quilts, 17 towels, 240 hospital handkerchiefs” (Rowell, p. 90).
At the end of 1948, there were nine W. I. branches in Compton County, with a total membership of 310. There is power in numbers, indeed, and on a provincial and federal level, the Women’s Institute was a forceful advocate for change. Through the years, members have worked together and with government representatives to achieve the pasteurization of milk, the wrapping of bread, the white line in the centre of provincial highways, “Stop” signs placed at railway crossings, hot lunches in schools, music classes included on the school curriculum (1937), mandatory liability insurance for car owners, the law requiring a mandatory stop when a school bus is stopped (1962), legislation for car lights to dim when meeting, and the establishment of the International Peace Gardens on the border between Manitoba and North Dakota.
The status of women also concerned the W.I. membership. In 1913, Mrs. W. E. Learned of the Cookshire branch prepared a petition, which was sent to the Provincial government, “protesting against the unjust laws” regarding women. “Talks on Women’s Suffrage, Women as School Commissioners, Women as Patriots, and Women the Builders of the Empire were given by different women well versed on the subject” (Rowell, p. 70).
It would be impossible to list all the accomplishments of the Compton County Women’s Institutes. Their banner symbolizes the effectiveness of collective action by English-speaking, rural dwelling women. Certainly their work to promote education, improve public health and enhance the general welfare of their contemporaries influenced the history of their villages, their province and their country. Today, only the Bury branch survives within the county, and although few in number, they continue to work “For Home and Country.”
Nellie A. Parsons, “Compton County Women’s Institute Scrapbook,” (beginning in 1949).
Private collection: Herbert Rowell Estate. Nina Rowell, History of the Compton County Women’s Institutes, 1912-1978, 65th Anniversary, 1978.
Canadian Museum of Civilization: Face to Face. http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/biography/biographi258e....
Eastern Townships Resource Centre, Through the Looking Glass: One hundred years of Women’s Groups in the Eastern Townships, 2013 Virtual Museum. http://www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca
To Learn More
www.fwic.ca Federated Women's Institutes of Canada
www.qwi.la Quebec Women's Institutes
www.quebecheritageweb.com/attraction/missisquoi-heritage-trail Dunham Women's Institutes
Brenda Hartwell is a writer and editor. She lives in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Serena Wintle is a member of the Compton County Women's Institutes, and a retired secondary school teacher.