Founded in Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1897, the Women’s Institute played three key roles which helped lay the foundations of the feminist movement. It provided a means for the continuing education of rural women, often not schooled beyond the elementary level, at first in practical areas of homemaking, home nursing and food preparation and preservation, then later in professional areas, providing much needed information such as how a woman could establish and protect her legal rights to property. Very early on, Women’s Institute members also began to use their local branches as a forum to lobby for social change, including public health reforms, medical and dental inspections in rural schools, and in some cases even to further the cause of female suffrage. Finally, the Women’s Institute also created an avenue for an evolving female sociability and a context for the evolution of a gender-based identity politics. From their humble beginnings, Women’s Institutes spread widely throughout Ontario, across Canada and around the world. At their height of popularity, Ontario could boast 1,449 branches with more than 47,000 members; Canadian membership climbed to 87,000 by 1953.
For Home and Country dramatizes the generational conflict created by the rise of an urban and radicalized feminist agenda in the latter part of the 20th century and its head-on collision with its much more conservative, rural roots in the Women’s Institute. It is also Leanna Brodie’s homage to the techniques of Canadian populist theatre—grounded in the work of Theatre Passe Muraille—and its ability to tell stories about the power and dignity of ordinary lives that had not previously been considered capable or worthy of being told.