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Adelaide Hoodless (1857-1910)
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By Peter S. Chisholm, P.Eng.

Her technical specialty was manual training for women to enhance equality between the sexes.

Adelaide Hoodless was born near Saint George, Canada West, on February 27, 1857 (MacDonald 13). She was the last of 10 children born to Jean Hamilton and David Hunter, an Irish protestant who immigrated from Monaghan in 1836. Her formal elementary education took place in the nearby German School. At home, she received the usual traditional education through domestic farm chores, contributing to the family economy.

MacDonald notes that some of Adelaide’s brothers attended college. However, during her childhood, British common law held that women were not considered legal persons in matters of rights and privileges (Ferguson 303), and her schooling did not progress beyond primary education. It would not be until 1917 that women were allowed to vote, and she died before then, on February 26, 1910.

Adelaide married John Hoodless on September 14, 1881, when they settled in Hamilton, Ontario. By 1889, she had established a vigorous campaign of voluntary public service, a non-traditional initiative for women at the time. Her legacy as Domestic Crusader results from her advocacy for technical education of women, which, according to the norms of the day, fell under the heading of domestic science. Adelaide’s century-old advocacy for technical education of women is current in Margaret-Ann Armour’s program WISEST:

Aimed at enc.ors a six week summer program that allows more than 60 Grade 11 girls to do hands-on research with U of A [University of Alberta] faculty members and graduate students (Bergman 42-43).

One commentator recalls Hoodless’ prominence as Domestic Crusader from several different perspectives:

Educational historians have generally placed Hoodless initiatives within the context of the new education which slowly began to alter the nineteenth-century school system through diversification in curriculum and teaching methods. Feminist historians, in contrast, have paid her fleeting attention as a spokesperson for women during a period of reform, but are somewhat uneasy with her conservative views (Crowley 522).

Such a view of her legacy fails to acknowledge her response to the flux of social change that she encountered during her lifetime.

One such change was the transition from domestic-scale to commercial-scale production of traditional farm products (Akensen 252). This was not without concern over food safety, as MacDonald points out:

Most people were relatively ignorant of the basic rules of hygiene. Milk was delivered in open containers in Hamilton [Ontario], accessible to flies and other disease carriers. While there were attempts to control the quality of milk, some dairy farmers continued to feed their cows garbage and contaminated material, or pastured them in fields of raw sewage. Some middlemen who distributed the milk were worse yet, adding chemicals like saltpetre and boracic acid and baking soda to make it look fresher, thus ensuring sales (MacDonald 18).

With the change from domestic-scale to commercial-scale food production, rural women lost the parental domestic apprenticeship that trained them in safe traditional food care and preparation (Patterson 215). No longer were women the primary contributors to the family economy; many of the goods and services once performed in the home were now purchased from without, using the man’s wages (Crowley 528). Displaced from domestic scale farm labour, ill-trained, uneducated young rural women moved into urban settlements, following trends in urbanization that afforded opportunities for low-paying commercial and industrial employment for women.

Another change that affected all 19th-century children was the introduction of the new education movement (Patterson 188), a shift from a book-centred to child-centred curriculum. Here, the leadership of James L. Hughes (1846-1935) contributed to the establishment of kindergarten for all children; manual training for boys was also offered by individual school boards in Ontario (Patterson 192-212). A third change resulted from the decline in contemporary industrial apprenticeship training. Advocacy by John Seath (1884-1919) led to industrial vocational preparation for boys in secondary public schools (Patterson 233-252). Both Hughes and Seath succeeded in their efforts to incorporate drawing as a subject in elementary and secondary school curricula. By the turn of the century, drawing advanced to the subject of design drafting.

Several plausible reasons for Hoodless’ strong commitment to domestic science come to mind. One is a sense of guilt she may have endured due to the fact that her own negligence may have played a hand in the death of her son, John Harold Hoodless on August 10, 1889 (MacDonald 18). His death was attributed to drinking contaminated milk. A second could be that her motive was to improve the quality of household servants (MacDonald 66). A third is that Adelaide’s pursuit of technical training for women would help them enter the field of labour, a self-respecting, intelligent worker, conscious of her duty to her employer and to herself (Stamp 229). Stamp points out that Mrs. Hoodless, however, was concerned that the campaign for technical education was too one-sided: the work was being planned and carried out in the interest of boys and little, if any, attention given to the claims of the girl pupils (228).

Her response to the claims of girl pupils took the form of a campaign that spanned the last 30 years of her life, from 1889 to 1909. It followed her specification of domestic science:

Domestic Science is the application of scientific principles to the management of a Home, or briefly-correct living. It teaches the value of pure air, proper food, systematic management; economy of time labour, and money; higher ideals of home life, and its relation to the state; more respect for domestic occupations; the prevention of disease; civic and domestic sanitation; care of children; home nursing, and what to do in emergencies; in short, a direct education for women as home-makers (Stamp 217).

Details of her campaign for the rights of girl pupils appear in a general chronology of events in her life as summarized by MacDonald (167-169). Here, two dominant trends emerge in her campaign: first, her concept for domestic science expanded from domestic to industrial scope through experience with three different designs; second, the change in scope of domestic science was due in part to an ever-expanding network of like-minded women and men whom she actively recruited.

First Campaign, 1889-1898

Hoodless’ recruitment efforts began with her attendance at a meeting on March 18, 1889, at the Hamilton Young Men Christian Association (YMCA). The purpose of this meeting was to establish the Hamilton Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) (MacDonald 23). After this meeting, Adelaide contributed to the development of the Hamilton YWCA, and in September 1890, she was elected second president, a position that secured a local forum for her campaign.

As second president, she represented the Hamilton YWCA at the 1893 Chicago World Fair, where she attended the International Congress of Women. With encouragement and support from the International Congress, Adelaide returned to Hamilton to organize and recruit a Canadian National Council of Women for which she was elected treasurer. She also promoted the introduction of the Hamilton Local Council of Women, and initiated planning for a National Canadian YWCA. In the process, the framework for her campaign would expand from the local scale in Hamilton to a national scale. All of this was achieved before the end of 1893.

During January 1894, Adelaide’s first design for training in domestic science was limited to instruction in cooking and was convened by the Hamilton YWCA where she was second president. The demand by working girls (Crowely 524) for instruction in cooking outpaced the capacity of the Hamilton YWCA staff. Adelaide attempted to recruit municipal councils generally, Hamilton City Council in particular, and specifically, the Hamilton Board of Education, to extend the venue for her program beyond the Hamilton YWCA to Hamilton public schools.

The Hamilton School Board compromised. Working with Adelaide and the Hamilton YWCA, Adelaide’s second design for instruction in domestic science was developed. The second design featured education of teachers of domestic science at the Hamilton YWCA: this proceeded in an ad hoc School of Domestic Science. In the process, domestic science progressed from a preliminary design for instruction in cooking only to a more advanced design for learning about how to teach domestic science. The ad hoc School of Domestic Science opened officially in 1895 to serve students in Hamilton public schools in preparation for careers in teaching domestic science.

After Adelaide demonstrated the feasibility of teaching and learning about domestic science, several factors combined to extend the theatre of Adelaide campaign beyond the city of Hamilton. Her campaign garnered nation-wide attention in January 1895, when she was elected president of the Dominion YWCA. In December 1896, she began advocating for a women’s institute at the provincial level. By February 1897, the successful inauguration of the Women Institute in Ontario took place, thus widening the provincial focus on her domestic science.

In January 1897, provincial legislation allowed for domestic science courses in public schools, and Adelaide begins work as domestic science publicist for the Department of Education [in Ontario] (MacDonald 167-168). In January 1898, three years after its opening, the ad hoc School of Domestic Science at the Hamilton YWCA closed and was replaced in February 1900 by a formal provincial education institution, the Ontario Normal School of Domestic Science and Arts (ONSDSA). Hoodless was fully recognized for her contributions to education in domestic science. Closure of the Hamilton School of Domestic Science marks the end of the first stage in her campaign.

Second Campaign, 1898-1908

During 1898, Hoodless published her textbook Public School Domestic Science, and in 1899, she contributed to successful plans for the introduction of the Victoria Order of Nurses to Hamilton. These initiatives were followed by her appointment as president of ONSDSA in February 1900.

Hoodless was required to direct her attention and personal finances homeward, as her husband, John Hoodless, encountered temporary financial business difficulties. She resigned from the National Council of Women in 1901, and with encouragement from the Ontario Minister of Education, Richard Harcourt, Adelaide set her sights on post-secondary education, the third design for education in domestic science.

In 1901, Adelaide visited Montreal to meet with Sir William Macdonald, Canada’s irascible and eccentric millionaire, yet one of its greatest educational philanthropists (Stamp 226). Her purpose was to discuss the possibility of his financial support for post-secondary education in domestic science. She requested funding for the construction of the proposed Macdonald Institute at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario.

The following year, burdened by household financial problems and the demands of her relentless public service, Hoodless resigned from the presidency of the Hamilton YWCA. Her efforts were not without personal cost, as she suffered a nervous breakdown later in 1902. Still, her negotiations with Sir William Macdonald were successful, and the formal opening of the Macdonald Institute took place on December 7, 1904. MacDonald provides insight into the courses of study at the Institute:

By August 1903, a provincial announcement had been published outlining the courses of study at the Institute. There was a three-month course for qualified teachers who wished to augment their knowledge of domestic science. A one-year homemaker course covered the usual domestic science topics, along with physics, chemistry, and biology (MacDonald 140).

During 1903 and 1904, Hoodless herself lectured at the Macdonald Institute. By 1904, her associates in Guelph advanced the curriculum content of domestic science beyond the scope of Adelaide’s formal knowledge. Her teaching assignments were cancelled and Adelaide suffered a second nervous breakdown in 1905. The second stage of Adelaide’s campaign ended in 1908, as failing health was accompanied by her resignation from commitments to the National Council of Women.

In 1908, the Ontario Department of Education invited Hoodless to investigate a fourth design for domestic science, referred to as industrial education for girls. MacDonald outlines what was at stake:

The provincial government was now [1908] looking into the question of technical education for girls–education to prepare them for work in the industrial sector–and Adelaide had been asked to report on American progress in this area. In the summer of 1908, Adelaide went to the United States where she visited several schools, including the Carnegie Technical Schools in Pittsburgh, the Manhattan Trade Schools for Girls, the Hebrew Technical School for Girls in New York City, and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (MacDonald 150).

Following these visits in 1908, she was selected to be advisor to Carnegie Technical Schools, Pittsburgh, in 1909 (MacDonald 167-169). These assignments pushed Adelaide well beyond her own formal knowledge and addressed a still underdeveloped design for industrial education for girls. The assignments expressed the trust that the Ontario Government and others extended to the resourceful and personal approach of her advocacy. MacDonald describes the respect with which Hoodless was greeted by the public:

She had been invited to speak [February 26, 1910] at St. Margaret College on Bloor Street East and the topic of her discussion was Women and Industrial Life. The audience was largely made up of members of the Toronto Women Canadian Club, and Adelaide easily captured their attention. Her expertise in the fields of domestic science and industrial education were widely accepted, regardless of various criticisms which emerged from time to time. Most of her listeners knew her by reputation as a woman of vision and boundless energy, a dedicated crusader who turned dream after dream into reality. Even those who were not particularly interested in Adelaide’s message were attracted by her open face, stately figure and the warmth and wit of her speech (MacDonald 160).

Briefly into her discussion, Adelaide collapsed and died, a victim of heart failure, on February 26, 1910.

Adelaide would not contribute to a fourth design for technical education for women. Just before she died, she was speaking about Women and Industrial Life, a non-traditional topic for women of her time. Had she lived longer, perhaps she might have encouraged young women to explore a variety of engineering applications for domestic science. Judging from the issues she addressed in her crusade, such applications would have likely included human nutrition, food engineering, sanitary engineering and engineering economics.

Whatever her motives might have been, as MacDonald puts it on the back cover of her book, Adelaide’s crusade for domestic science attempted to place the labour involved in managing a home on an equal standing with the labour of the workplace, changing the perception that the private realm was divorced from the public, and thus paving the way for greater equality between the sexes. Remarkably, Hoodless did this over a century ago, between 1889 and 1909.

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