Mac at war: Women’s work and education at the Macdonald Institute during the First and Second World Wars

Tasha Falconer


In 1903, the Macdonald Institute opened in Guelph with the stated aim of training rural women in home economics and domestic science. Part of the Ontario Agriculture College (OAC), the school progressed quickly and soon became an invaluable resource for both Canadian and international women. Over the years, the “Mac girls” made their mark on the world, including during the two World Wars. Under the leadership of directors Mary Watson during the First World War, and Olive Cruikshank during part of the Second World War, the Macdonald Institute supported the war effort in several ways. These included adapting curricula to the exigencies of wartime, and sending material overseas. The Macdonald Institute initially remained open during the Second World War, yet in 1941, standard classes ceased for five years as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) No. 4 Wireless School took control of the Institute’s buildings and property. Throughout this period of closure, women arrived to live and attend classes at the Wireless School as part of the RCAF’s Women’s Division and School of Cookery. Throughout the two World Wars, women associated with the Macdonald Institute and the No. 4 Wireless School, including students, graduates, instructors, and members of the Women’s Division, variously involved themselves with the war effort. The activities of the Macdonald Institute, and of the No. 4 Wireless School, afford an opportunity to examine how women’s work and education was viewed, deployed, and reallocated throughout the two World Wars.

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