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Chapter 11
The Flowering of Richmond Hill
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
The Village That Was
"On the Green of Richmond Hill"
The Village that Was
Roses Bloom in Richmond Hill
Mrs. P.L. Grant Urges That "Local Option" Be Retained
The Women's Institute and the Library
The Women of Richmond Hill
War Comes to Richmond Hill
Richmond Hill Men Who Served in the First World War 1914-1918
South on Yonge Street
North on Yonge Street
East on Centre Street
The Langstaff Jail Farm
War and Remembrance
12 The Village Transformed
Table of Illustrations

The Women of Richmond Hill

While the men of Richmond Hill used the new Horticultural Society to strengthen links between greenhouse owners and town businesses, the women of the village saw the Society as a long overdue opportunity to exert some influence of their own. After remaining behind the scenes and largely invisible in the public life of nineteenth-century Richmond Hill, local women by the 1910s were beginning to be influenced by national and international campaigns for expanded women's rights.

Dr. Lillian Langstaff, guest speaker at the inaugural meeting of the Women's Institute in 1913 and member of the Horticultural Society's first Flower Show Committee in 1914.
Since the Richmond Hill Horticultural Society dealt with fruit, flower, and vegetable growing - areas that a chauvinistic early twentieth-century society could accept as "women's concerns" - it provided an ideal entrée for women to move out of the shadows and into the public arena. "Ladies especially invited," announced The Liberal in its notice of the society's inaugural meeting in April 1914. And while men retained control of the first executive, three of the six members of the Flower Show Committee were women - Mrs T. F. McMahon,Mrs. G.F. Allen, and Dr. Lillian Langstaff. The first flower show was held on June 10 "with a very creditable showing," reported The Liberal.11

Throughout most of the long nineteenth century, the only formal public networks available to Richmond Hill women were their various church groups. But those organizations were of the "ladies' aid" or "women's auxiliary" type, dedicated to running bake sales, serving tea, and cooking annual church suppers, while the real church business remained in control of male-only parish or congregational governing bodies.

At the same time, church groups divided women along sectarian lines and worked against interdenominational co-operation. Not till the early-twentieth-century campaign for "Local Option" - that is, a local prohibition on the sale of intoxicating liquors - did Richmond Hill women find a forum with the potential to cross denominational boundaries. They joined with Protestant clergymen and temperance-minded businessmen to fight for Local Option. Together, the temperance men and women persuaded council to pass a Local Option bylaw in February 1906 and to defeat an attempt to repeal the bylaw six years later.

Both the Horticultural Society'sFlower Show Committee and the temperance movement, however, were soon overshadowed by the Women's Institute as a vehicle for women's involvement in community affairs.

The Women's Institute (or WI) proved to be the most open in its appeal and the most diversified in its interests, and it quickly became the major vehicle for women's interests in Richmond Hill. From the founding of the first WI in Stoney Creek in 1897, the movement spread quickly throughout Ontario in the early years of the twentieth century. Its merging of such traditional concerns as family values and rural living with a contemporary interest in public affairs appealed to farm and small town women emerging from a Victorian past into the upheavals of the new century.

The Richmond Hill Women's Institute held its organizational meeting on January 27, 1913, at the Masonic Hall. The agenda was certainly no barn burner as far as women's issues were concerned. Like later meetings, this one centred on domestic subjects. Dr. Lillian Langstaff shared new ideas on health and home economics with her talk on "Facts about Flies." Miss A. Trench was chosen president, Mrs. J. Switzer vice-president, Bertha Palmer secretary-treasurer, and Miss H. Pentland district representative.

Over the course of the year 1914-15, monthly programmes began to reflect concern for women's issues as well as the traditional tips on housekeeping and childcare:

August 12: Demonstration in dressmaking and sewing

September 9: Jelly making and pickle making

October 14: Fall bulb planting; care of roses for the winter

November 11: Suffragette meeting

December 9: Christmas music

January 13: Business meeting

February 10: Visit from Thornhill Women's Institute

March 10: "Afternoon with Dickens"

April 11: Competition in making biscuits, cookies, and sponge cake

May 10: Paper on "Nursing" by Ella McLean12

Beyond its monthly programs, the Richmond Hill branch supported the "Votes for Women" campaign of the provincial and national Women's Institute, and locally, the Institute pushed women into a more active role in village life. In 1917, the WI succeeded in having two women directors added to the Fair Board, in order to "revise the prize list in connection with fine arts and women's work." 13 It combined forces with the Horticultural Society to improve the municipal park. It lobbied Council on litter and safety issues, and led campaigns for public rest rooms and arena attendants. It also launched fund-raising campaigns for a First World War memorial in 1922 and for a library building four years later.

Snowshoe party on Vaughan Sideroad (today's Major Mackenzie Drive) west of Yonge Street in 1918.
The Women's Institute also took an active interest in improving education. The Richmond Hill branch raised money for extra equipment when the new public school was built in 1915, then sponsored a number of student prizes and awards. It lobbied for classroom medical and dental inspection and in 1921 helped form a Home and School Association. Then, in 1932, a major triumph: an Institute member, Mrs. O.L. Wright, was elected to the Richmond Hill School Board, the first elected woman representative to be involved in any aspect of village affairs.


11. The Liberal,April 9, 1914; November 25, 1954.

12. "Richmond Hill Branch, Women's Institute, Programme for 1914 and 1915," Local History Collection, Richmond Hill Public Library.

13. Richmond Hill Women's Institute,"Tweedsmuir History"(Richmond Hill:1957),unpaginated.


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