Happy Without Heroes?

It’s sad but perhaps fitting that few Canadians know of Women’s Institute.

Even fewer remember Adelaide Hoodless who got it started.

Sad because not too long ago Women’s Institute was selected as one of the top ten social innovations in the world.

You know Women’s Institute, if at all, from the Helen Mirren movie Calendar Girls about a group of Women’s Institute members from North Yorkshire who posed without clothes for a fund raising calendar. That group is one of 60,000 in 70 countries comprising 9 million active members in the world today.

Women’s Institute was founded in 1897 in Stoney Creek Ontario in response to children dying because of poor hygienic practices in food production. Aside from their practical and effective response to that challenge, they are credited with ushering in the first wave of feminism. That’s right before Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Muriel Duckworth, Rosemary Brown, Thérèse Casgrain, Doris Anderson, Shari Graydon and the women behind Idle No More there was Adelaide Hoodless and a movement of mostly rural Canadian women.

Fitting because the great woman, great man theory of history doesn’t grow well in Canadian soil. Perhaps that’s why we don’t remember Adelaide Hoodless . (I spoke about the Women’s Institute recently and several people came up afterwards to tell me they regularly drive past Adelaide Hoodless School in Stoney Creek but had no idea who she was.)

There are many anonymous benefactors from the past, like Adelaide Hoodless. They are similar to many of the contemporary change-makers I encounter in my travels. Their genius is their ability to transcend organization, time, place and personality. And achieve program excellence, policy reform and culture shift for their social innovation, rather than heroine status for themselves.

Still there is so much we could learn from Adelaide and her contemporaries. I’m betting we can do that without becoming worshippers.


Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.

     Adelaide Hoodless

Sometimes it feels like I’m all that they’ve got
It’s so hard to know I’m not what they want.

This week’s song is ‘I am not your Hero’ by sisters Tegan and Sara.

Listen here.  Buy here.


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