The Origins (extracts from WI National Archives)

This information was taken from the main WI website, if you are interested please click here-   

to explore the archives for a far more comprehensive journey 
through history.

The Women's Institute Movement in Britain started in 1915. During the First World War it was formed to encourage country women to get involved in growing and preserving food to help increase the supply of food to the war-worn nation.

Once the war was over the newly formed WIs began to concentrate on planning programmes of activities to suit their members.  This new organisation attracted members from the Lady of the manor, to her housemaid and cook; from the local shop keeper to the wife of the farm labourer:  working together in the WI helped break down the social barriers between country women who had rarely met in the past. Women had now received the vote (at least those over 30) and NFWI was anxious to encourage women to become active citizens.

By now the WI had become firmly established in the countryside, and was so well known that it was the subject of cartoons in Punch.

There was a light-hearted feel to WI activities with WI members taking part in musical festivals, country dancing and some very ambitious pageants and plays were performed.

The organisation continued to support the league of Nations and in 1934 sent a delegate to the International Congress in Brussels. When war seemed inevitable, the NFWI had to decide what role it would play.

During the Second World War the WIs felt that it was important to maintain their meetings as normally as possible, "thus providing for the members a centre of tranquility and cheerfulness in a sadly troubled world."

During the war, the WIs contributed an enormous amount to the Home Front. From the outbreak of war in 1939 they co-operated with caring for evacuees, but as in the First World War, the main contribution was in growing and preserving food.  Between 1940 and 1945 over 5,300 tons of fruit were preserved; that is nearly 12 million pounds of fruit which might have otherwise been wasted, provided food for the nation. This was the war work for which WI members became renowned (and the 'jam' image has stuck ever since).
One positive event in the 1940s was the formation of the WI's Denman College which was opened in 1948.

Once the war was over the WI concentrated on getting back to normal as quickly as possible.  The headquarters at 39 Eccleston street was repaired of its war damage.  Denman college was lovingly furnished and the bedrooms with their handmade bedspreads became a special feature.The NFWI celebrated the beginning of the 1950s with a musical festival.  In 1952 a national craft exhibition was staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the centrepiece of which was a huge wall hanging depicting the Work of Women in War. Finally the decade closed with a national drama festival.  The NFWI continued its campaigning work and the highlight of this decade was the setting up of of the Keep Britain Tidy Group.

During the 1960s the WIs continued to grow in number.  The Golden Jubilee was celebrated in great style in 1965 with, amongst other celebrations, a memorable garden party when the Queen invited her fellow members to Buckingham Palace.  Between 1962 and 1966 the WIs raised £182,000 and WI Markets a further  £3,000 for the Freedom from Hunger Campaign. There were two notable cultural events during the decade;  the first National Art Exhibition and the specially commissioned operatic sequence The Brilliant and the Dark.  The rule that restricted WIs to being formed in communities with a population of 4,000 or less was rescinded in 1965 and in
1968 the was a major conference on the Countryside.

The seventies opened and closed with new buildings being opened at Denman College.  Although much of the public affairs work continued to be about supporting rural life there were also resolutions of a more overtly political nature.  In 1974, the number of WIs reached its highest ever.  The Diamond Jubilee in 1975 was celebrated with a large exhibition.  This Green and Pleasant land?, the question mark reflecting the concern that WI members felt about the future of the countryside.

There was a three-year campaign to raise the profile of the WI and a 'promotion bus' toured the country, parked in two or three locations in each county.  There were also promotional stands in British Home Stores staffed by federations.  The culmination of the three years was the WI Life and Leisure Exhibition held in 1984 at Olympia, attended on its opening day by the Queen.  The decade ended with the WIs first appearance at the Chelsea Flower Show, bringing great success. The subjects of the resolutions debated at the annual meetings reflect women's concerns for current issues and show an awareness of modern technology.

This decade opened with the celebration of the WI's 75th anniversary, with the Queen attending the AGM.  The National Federation held its first Triennial General Meeting at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.  During the decade, the NFWI worked in partnership with a number of organisations to develop special programmes.  In 1998 over 450 members met at the Royal Institution for a special presentation, Great Scientists of the Royal Institution. Sport was promoted by the Regional Sports.  Coordinators and national competitions such as the golf tournament and the 1997 Swimfit campaign encouraged an active and healthy membership.


Ottershaw WI
Community Web Kit provided free by BT
Cookies and Privacy | Charity Number: 278373