Laying the groundwork for a new Women's Institute Branch in Stratford

Oct 11, 2016

Lindsay Pletch Parr.jpg

By Scott Wishart, Stratford Beacon Herald

It helps to know where you came from when you’re figuring out where you need to go.

Stratford’s Lindsay Pletsch-Parr appreciates that.

It’s one reason why she’s so enthusiastic about launching a Women’s Institute branch in Stratford.

She’s a nurse and married mom of two children who figures there’s a wealth of knowledge, energy and experience among women in the city that would be a perfect fit for the Women’s Institute.

She envisions a sharing of those gifts among several generations, all united with the goal of building a brighter future for our community.

"We need to get back to the basics and building relationships,” she said in an interview.

“Sometimes I think we get so lost in this generation of electronics."

To gauge interest, she’s welcoming women of all ages to an information session this Thursday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Kiwanis Community Centre. She said she’d love to see the room filled.

Pletsch-Parr started exploring the idea of a Stratford branch after chatting with two Women’s Institute members at the Embro fall fair. She was impressed by the long heritage of the organization and its many social-action campaigns.

“They’ve accomplished hundreds of things at the provincial level that we take for granted,” she said, citing successful lobbying for milk pasteurization, wrappers on bread, dividing lines on two-lane roads and flashing lights and stop arms on school buses.

But it was the charitable work of the Women’s Institutes that truly resonated with her. Branches can offer, for example, scholarships and bursaries to high school students or hold instructional workshops for youth and seniors on topics like gardening and food preparation.

“When they told me what they do on a larger scale for their communities, that really inspired me,” Pletsch-Parr recalled. “I thought, ‘How can I involve other women to step into their own voice, and step into their power, and network about how we can better our community on different levels?’

“This is for women of all ages who want to get involved in the community, and have their voice heard. It’s a safe place for women to come together, to network and better their community.”

And that’s precisely what Women’s Institutes have been doing since the first one was formed in Stoney Creek in 1897. Co-founded by Adelaide Hoodless—who was also instrumental in the Victorian Order of Nurses, the National Council of Women and the Young Women’s Christian Association—one of its mandates was to bring women together to share knowledge and improve skills in homemaking and childcare.

“They really were looking to bring rural farmwives together. They had no other social network,” Pletsch-Parr noted.

From that initial idea, the movement has spread around the globe. Currently there area about 280 branches of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario comprising some 3,500 members.

Ideally, Pletsch-Parr said she like to see a range of ages in the proposed local branch, from “teens who want to find their place in the community, right up to however old.

“We need those women to show us, and share, the history of things. I think that’s so important, to remember how we got here today.”