The concept of the Women's Institute developed in response to a mother's tragedy in Hamilton, Ontario in the late nineteenth century. A mother lost her eighteen-month-old son, needlessly and accidentally, when he was given impure milk to drink. The mother was determined to prevent similar tragedies and vowed to help educate other women in this capacity. On February 19, 1897 the first Women's Institute was formed in Ontario with the goal of bringing women together to better their home life through work and education. Women's Institutes were gradually formed in the other provinces as the value of the organization, considered "a university for rural women," was recognized.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, what was to become the Women's Institute actually began as a small Service League in 1929. Following a destructive tidal wave, and in the middle of a world depression, the Service League assisted those who needed help by collecting and distributing clothing. It also offered support in community service and development. In October 1935 the Service League became the Jubilee Guilds of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the goal of helping people help themselves. The Jubilee Guilds developed initiatives with social, educational, service and craft-related content in order to assist with the improvement of home and community conditions. In June 1968 the name Jubilee Guilds was changed to the Newfoundland and Labrador Women's Institutes. This organization took on the many roles of community service that its partners demonstrated throughout Canada and England.
In 1972 the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry to examine the economic and social conditions of life in Labrador. Donald Snowden chaired this Commission and, after a series of meetings throughout the area, wrote a detailed report relating to social and government services, natural resources and the needs of the people in Labrador. In response to the need for social change, Margaret Beals of Pinware coordinated the first Women's Institute in the Labrador Straits in 1973. Branches were established in seven communities, six of which are still very active today in Forteau, L'Anse au Loup, Capstan Island, West St. Modeste, Pinware and Red Bay.
These local branches of the Women's Institute have been dedicated to improving the quality of life for its residents through community service work in hospitals, economic development and community training. They have also been the mind and the heart behind the Labrador Straits Museum through its conceptualization, development and operation.
As proud members of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada and the Associated Country Women of the World, the women of the Labrador Straits continue to work for the betterment of the place they call home.
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