Alice Ravenhill was one of the first authors to champion the rights of Aboriginals in British Columbia. She founded the Society for the Furtherance of B.C. Indian Arts and Crafts in Victoria in 1939, later renamed the B.C. Indian Arts and Welfare Society, and produced a book-length study of Aboriginal designs called A Cornerstone of Canadian Culture: An Outline of the Arts and Crafts of the Indian Tribes of British Columbia (B.C. Provinical Museum, 1944). In addition to writing wrote one of the first sympathetic overviews of Aboriginal culture for provincial school curriculum, The Native Tribes of British Columbia (1938), she contributed to the Native Voice newspaper in the 1940s and collected 52 legends for Folklore of the Far West (1953).

Born in Snaresbrook, Essex, England in 1859, Alice Ravenhill became acutely interested in home economics and child care as a domestic sciences graduate of the British National Health Society. Rising to the position of Secretary of the Royal British Nurses' Association (1894-1897), she lectured in Home Economics at the University of London and became the first woman elected as a Fellow of the Royal Sanitary Institute. She participated in social welfare initiatives prior to her immigration to Canada in 1910, whereupon she commenced a nine-year series of lectures throughout Canada and the United States. Returning to Victoria in 1919, she became closely associated with Victoria College at Craigdarroch Castle. As the precursor to the University of British Columbia, Victoria College was an appendage of Victoria High School that had opened in 1903 with an affiliation to McGill University. Ravenhill developed Women's Institutes in B.C. and became increasingly interested in Aboriginal art and culture in the 1920s, encouraging the adaptation of First Nations designs for hand-crafted rugs and needlework that were marketed to tourists. "To each article I attached a label giving the source of the design, it's tribal origin and its significance," she recalled.

Ravenhill's elementary school curriculum text The Native Tribes of British Columbia (1938) was one of the first serious examinations of the social and cultural traditions of Aboriginals in the province. A year later she co-founded the Society for the Furtherance of B.C. Indian Arts and Crafts with Major Bullock-Webster, Alma Russell and Madame Sanderon Maugin "to bring to the notice of the public, the innate merits and deep-rooted artistic talents of the Indian people by means of Exhibitions of their Arts and Crafts, Folklore, Music, Drama and Dance" and "to arouse the Indians themselves to a realization of their true place in the social organiation of this country, and to encourage them to work for, and to take advantage of, the opportunities which are offered under the revised Indian Act, and to prepare themselves for community service." Ravenhill received an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia in 1948 and an honorary doctorate from the American Association of Home Economics in 1950. Including a draft of her Memoirs of an Educational Pioneer (1951), her papers are stored at UBC Special Collections. She died in 1954.

According to bookseller David Ellis who specializes in the sale of First Nations books: "The Society for the Furtherance of BC Indian Arts and Crafts was initially formed in 1940 as a committee at the suggestion of Anthony Walsh, of the Inkameep Indian School, B.C. The society was founded by Alice Ravenhill. Its objectives were primarily ‘to promote the revival of the latent gifts of art, drama, dance and song, as well as certain handicrafts, among the Indians of this Province.’ The committee became a society in 1941 with objectives ‘to compile a schedule and pictorial record of authentic specimens of totem poles, pictographs, petroglyphs and other tribal arts and crafts; to compile a bibliography on B.C. Arts and Crafts; to collect new material in the form of drawings, photographs or written records of B.C. Indian Arts and Crafts; to encourage commercial use of these and all other authentic B.C. Indian designs; to gather records of B.C. Native Music; to compile a bibliography of B.C. Native Mythology and Drama; to encourage Pupils of Indian Schools and Tribal Experts in the revival of their latent gifts of Arts, Crafts and Drama, with a view to improve their economic position, to restore their self respect, and to induce more sympathetic relations between them and their fellow Canadians; and to publish leaflets, books and articles in harmony with the work of the Society.’ The first members of the committee were Major Bullock-Webster, Douglas Flintoff, A.E. Pickford, Madame Sanderson Mongin, Miss Cave-Brown-Cave, Alma Russell, Betty Newton, and Alice Ravenhill as secretary. Projects completed were the publication of The Tale of the Nativity, a selection of stories told to Anthony Walsh by his students that includes artwork by Sis-hu-lk (Francis Baptiste); charts of examples of various tribal art forms; exhibitions; and letters and meetings with members of government. In 1951, the society incorporated and changed its name to the British Columbia Indian Arts and Welfare Society."

BOOKS:

Ravenhill, Alice. The Native Tribes of British Columbia (Victoria: Charles Banfield, 1938)
Ravenhill, Alice. A Corner Stone of Canadian Culture: An Outline of the Arts and Crafts of the Indian Tribes of British Columbia (Victoria: B.C. Provincial Museum, 1944).
Ravenhill, Alice. The Memoirs of an Educational Pioneer (Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1951).
Ravenhill, Alice. Folklore of the Far West, With Some Clues to Characeristics and Customs (Victoria: Indian Arts & Welfare Society, 1953).

[BCBW 2005] "Anthropology" "First Nations" "1900-1950" "Women" "First Nations"