2015 marks the centenary of the establishment of the Women’s Institute in the UK.
The WI was first established in 1897 in Ontario, Canada, as a branch of the Farmer’s Institute. When the first WI opened its first UK branch, in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey in September of 1915, its primary objectives were to help improve the lives of those living in rural communities, and also to encourage women to play a greater role in producing food, which was particularly important at this time due to the ongoing war.
During the Second World War the WI was again asked to produce food, canning produce that would otherwise have gone to waste, and using sugar to make jam; this explains the use of the popular term ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ when referring to the WI, linking their culinary skills to the singing of Jerusalem at WI branch meetings.
Following both world wars, the WI began to expand their scope. For example, in 1954 they began an anti-litter campaign which led to the creation of the Keep Britain Tidy group. This was followed in 1963 with a call for coordinated public transport in rural areas. To this point, WI branches had only opened in places with a population of under 4000, but in 1965 this rule was dropped, as populations increased with urbanisation of previously rural areas. The WI would now also campaign on issues affecting women in cities and towns as well as the countryside, notably in 1986 when they campaigned for more information to be made available about HIV and AIDS.
The WI has attracted some famous members, particularly female royals. Queen Mary, the wife of King George V, became president of the Sandringham branch. Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI and the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, was also a member of the WI. And Queen Elizabeth II herself addressed the WI’s Assembly General Meeting at their 75th anniversary celebrations in 1990, and has also opened several WI facilities.
At the Glamorgan Archives we hold records relating to the Glamorgan Federation of the WI, along with those created by groups and branches within the local area. One example is the WI branch at Dinas Powys. Among the records deposited with us are yearly programme cards detailing the topics and speakers for meetings (DXNO2/10). There are also newsletters (DXNO2/11) and scrapbooks, notably one created for the 60th anniversary of the branch in 1999. While this particular branch has served its area for generations, some did not last quite as long, even within the same area. Dinas Powys and St Andrew’s Morning WI (DXNO62) was established in 1993, but was suspended indefinitely 10 years later. One unusual example of a WI is the special Morgannwg WI branch (DXNO52), which was established in the Glanrhyd, Penyfai and Parc Hospitals in the Bridgend area.
If you’d like to delve into 100 years of WI history then do call in to Glamorgan Archives to explore this wonderful collection.