Charter members in 1915, these women were still active in the Haney Women’s Institute in 1958: from left, Adelaide McIntosh, Susan Greenwell, Jessie Adair, Janet Burnet and Margaret Pentreath. (Contributed)

Looking Back: The Women’s Institute and the Well Baby Clinics in Maple Ridge

Precursor to modern day public health units

One of the ongoing tasks behind the scenes in the community archives is the transcribing of original, handwritten documents into searchable text.

This work is primarily done by summer student staff – at least for as long as we have students who can read cursive writing. Later, senior staff read them over for correct spelling of surnames and older words and that’s where we really get to read the material and think about what it contains. One of last summer’s tasks was transcribing Women’s Institute meeting minutes from 1936 to 1950.

The Women’s Institute movement began in Canada in Stoney Creek, Ont. in 1897. The local Farmer’s Institute had brought in a speaker named Adelaide Hoodless to speak to a group of farm wives. Adelaide had four children but lost one tragically at 14 months, to what was thought to be tainted milk. That was in 1889 and it turned her into a crusader for “domestic science” and what came to be known as “home economics.”

She found a ready audience in that group of farmer’s wives and the first Women’s Institute was born. It quickly spread across the country, most branches affiliated with the British “Country Women of the World.”

In Maple Ridge, there were Women’s Institute branches in Haney, Hammond and Whonnock. All were deeply involved in community service – caring for the needy, especially abandoned and disabled children, and providing education in new science-informed practices for the home. Much like a modern day food bank/thrift store combination, club members made up packages of food, clothing, bedding, and shoes – sometimes hundreds of them in a month during the Depression.

The Haney group formed in 1915 but sadly, all the early records were lost in a fire at the Oddfellows Hall in 1936. The records in our collection start after that loss and one of the first topics of discussion was the creation of a Well Baby Clinic. These clinics were springing up across the country to provide infant and toddler care, especially for the provision of inoculations.

Read more: B.C. launches mandatory vaccine registry for school children

The clinics were held in community and group halls with no rent charged and they were staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteered their time. It seems they also provided the medication as there is no record of it being purchased by the Women’s Institute. The WI provided volunteers to set up the clinic – including scales for weighing babies and examination tables – and they did the record keeping. The first doctors involved in Haney were Dr. Sparling and Dr. Broe.

The early minute books record the numbers attending and number of inoculations given. The inoculation material was referred to as “toxoids” which was the generic term for inactivated preparations of bacteria that would confer immunity. By 1937, vaccinations for tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, tetanus, and whooping cough were available but the minutes don’t record which one was available at the different clinic days – it may have been that as today – children returned for more than one shot.

The clinics were soon being hosted by Hammond, Whonnock and Ruskin as well as Haney and the program continued with the Women’s Institutes until taken over by public health in 1965.

Val Patenaude is director at the Maple Ridge Museum and Archives.

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