16 September 1915 is the centenary of the Women’s Institute in Britain, the anniversary of the first W.I. meeting on Anglesey in Wales.
Although the W.I. has its origins in Canada in 1897, the W.I. spread quickly throughout the First World War and the 1920s.
http://www.thewi.org.uk/centenary has a fabulous timeline well illustrated with photos.
In WW2 it became very important alongside the WVS / WRVS in food production, salvage and fundraising but most importantly, a supportive and friendly social network for women and their community in times of peace and war. This wartime role was most recently written up in the brilliantly titled book Jambusters.
Lady Denman who oversaw the food and farming efforts of the early W.I. throughout WW1 would go on to lead the Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army in WW2. A inspiring woman, to misquote the new W.I. Slogan.
As part of my work at Newquay Zoo (where the World War Zoo Gardens project allotment garden is based) I have been lucky enough to have visited and talked about the zoo and recently our wartime garden to many W.I. groups all over Cornwall over the last 20 years.
I still proudly have the poster from Lerryn W.I. probably using up old poster stock which declared that ‘Lerryn WI’ were hosting a talk about ‘Newquay Zoo by Mark Norris’ under which was printed ‘A Modern Voice for Women’. I’ve been called many things in my time but this is a title or an accolade I feel I don’t rightly deserve! I still have the poster proudly in my scrapbook, after years on my office wall, raising many a smile from passing staff.
I feel proud and privileged to have spent lots of time with the W.I., enjoyed their hospitality, drunk their tea, eaten the occasional cake or two, warily judged many competitions and listened to their many interesting life stories along with rousing renditions of ‘Jerusalem’.
Their care for each other, especially through ill health, advancing years and bereavement, have always been apparent to myself as a visitor listening in to their ‘business’ whilst setting up projectors and the like. Long may it continue …
Never to be underestimated or taken for granted, the W.I. Branches in some areas will be celebrating their 100th birthday, others have merged or quietly vanished as was the case in the one I researched in wartime recently.
On our sister blog looking at a Cornish village in wartime, helping to research its war memorial, I have been through the 1940s wartime newspapers for a flavour of jam making and inspiring, uplifting and useful talks in wartime:
Fascinating to read of the many wartime talks and fundraising efforts from just one village W.I. that stands in for hundreds of others.
Whilst this W.I. branch may be gone but not forgotten, I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing the W.I. another happy hundred years.
Posted on behalf of the World War Zoo Gardens project
by Mark Norris, “A Modern Voice for Women” 🙂