Who founded the Women's Institute (WI)?
Adelaide Hoodless, a Canadian leader and educationalist, is usually honoured as the founder of the Women's Institute Movement. She certainly inspired it, however, only played a limited role in its development.
Adelaide's husband John was the chairman of the local Board of Education and frequently visited schools in the city. Adelaide often accompanied him, which gave her considerable insight into the education system. As a result of her visits to schools, she came to think that the education of girls ought to be extended to include the practical skills that they would require when they grew up and ran homes and looked after families.
Adelaide was instrumental in setting up the Canadian National Council of Women in 1893 and persuaded them to back her campaign for the introduction of Domestic Science into the school curriculum. In December 1896 she spoke at a conference of the Farmers' Institute at the Ontario Agricultural College, outlining the connection between poor food, overwork and monotony with the high rate of insanity among rural people.
"...the causes are easily preventable by scientific knowledge of the various articles of food and their nutritive value, and...by the introduction of schools of domestic science in the rural districts, with lecture courses and clubs for farmers' wives, where better methods for producing good results in butter making, poultry raising, bee culture, house decoration, cookery etc. may be intelligently discussed…"
That call for continuing education for women living in rural areas had immediate results. Erland Lee, secretary of the Farmer's Institute of Wentworth County was in the audience and invited her to speak at the next 'Ladies' night' of his Institute. As a result of that talk, the first Women’s Institute was formed in Stoney Creek, Ontario (Canada).
The first WI of Great Britain was formed in 1915 at the suggestion of Canadian woman Madge Watt. The pattern of the Canadian movement was followed and the name adopted.
Why was the organisation called Women's Institute?
The name ‘Institute’ was chosen because it was the women’s branch of the Farmer’s Institute. 'Institute' was the term used for a permanent organisation whose purpose was educational. In Britain, ‘Institute’ already had an honourable usage in the Mechanics' Institutes, educational establishments formed to provide adult education particularly in technical subjects to working men, and also in the City and Guilds Institute established as a national system of technical education.
What is the difference between the NFWI and the WI?
NFWI stands for National Federation of Women’s Institutes and is responsible for running our charitable organisation as a whole. Its headquarters are located in Parsons Green, London.
There are almost 70 federations spread across the UK. Imagine them as regional offices, linking all the WI in its area with the NFWI in London.
Therefore, every single WI belongs to a federation. As an example: the "Guernsey Lilies" belong to the Guernsey federation, just like the Selby Swans belong to the North Yorkshire East federation and so on.
As a result, when a woman joins her local WI, she becomes a member of that particular WI and not her regional federation or the NFWI.
Why was Jerusalem chosen as the WI’s anthem?
Choosing Jerusalem as the WI anthem came as a result of a letter to the former WI membership magazine “Home & Country” prior to the 8th Annual General Meeting in 1924. Grace Hadow, Vice-Chair at the time, suggested its use after attending “Exhibitions or Council meetings at which the whole assembly joined in singing Sir Hubert Parry's setting of Blake's Jerusalem.” She pointed out that many WI members “would like to sing the song at the upcoming Annual Meeting.”
After an impressive “performance” of Jerusalem at the AGM, the NFWI ran a competition for an 'Institute song' which ended in Jerusalem being chosen at the official Institute’s song.
Jerusalem had been used by the National Union of Suffrage Societies in the 1918 celebrations of women's enfranchisement, and many of the leaders of the NFWI, including Grace Hadow, had been part of that struggle to win the vote for women.
By singing Jerusalem, the WI is marking its links with the wider women's movement, and its commitment to improving the conditions of rural life.
Which members of the Royal family have joined the WI?
Queen Mary invited Madge Watt, who found the first WI in Great Britain, to form a WI at Sandringham, and the Queen became its President. This tradition was followed by future members of the Royal family. HM Queen Elizabeth II became a WI member in 1943 when she was still Princess Elizabeth; her Mother was President of Sandringham WI.
Her Majesty The Queen is still President of Sandringham WI. HRH The Countess of Wessex is a member of Bagshot WI, Surrey. HRH The Duchess of Cornwall is a member of Tetbury WI, Gloucestershire. HRH Princess Anne is an Associate Member.
What are the 'Objectives' of the Women's Institute?
The three main purposes of the Women’s Institute are:
- to advance the education of women and girls for the public benefit in all areas including (without limitation):
- local, national and international issues of political and social importance;
- music, drama and other cultural subjects; and
- all branches of agriculture, crafts, home economics, science, health and social welfare
- to promote sustainable development for the public benefit by:
- educating people in the preservation, conservation and protection of the environment and the prudent use of natural resources and
- promoting sustainable means of achieving economic growth and regeneration
- to advance health for the public benefit, and to advance citizenship for the public benefit by the promotion of civic responsibility and volunteering.
How old does a woman have to be to join the WI?
Membership of the WI is open to women who have reached the Age of Majority (18 years). There is no upper limit to becoming a WI member.
What types of membership does the WI offer?
Women can either join "only" one WI (single membership), two WI's (dual membership) or become part of our associate membership scheme. Take a look at the different options and see which one suits you best.
Why are men not allowed to join the WI?
The Women's Institute is based on the idea of establishing a strong female community, providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to make a difference in their communities. Therefore, the WI is set up as an educational charity with a constitution which states that membership is only open to women. Under UK law, charitable organisations whose constitution stipulates single-sex membership are entitled to restrict access to the opposite sex.
While WI membership is only open to women, men are welcome to attend courses at Denman College, our centre for learning, and take part in many activities, events and campaigns both locally and nationally.
How do I pay for my membership?
If you would like to join your local WI, please get in touch with the responsible federation. You can find their contact details using our search tool. The federation will then advise you on how to pay your membership fee.
If you have chosen to become an associate member, please fill out the associate membership registration form here and post a cheque to the address provided or visit Our Shop to pay using a credit or debit card.
Can members pay pro-rata, depending on the month they join the WI?
Yes, that is possible. Since January 2015 new arrangements apply to anyone who joins the WI for the first time. New members will pay a pro-rata subscription depending on the quarter in which they join. More information can be found here.
Can I serve as a president of my WI for one year only?
Yes. Anyone agreeing to serve as either a committee member or as an officer on the Committee (President/Treasurer/Secretary) is only agreeing to do so for 12 months. Of course, it is hoped that once in the position, you may wish or agree to serve for a longer period of time, but if at the end of a year you decide that you do not wish to continue, then no pressure should be brought upon you to do so.
Can WI members campaign on every issue that interests them?
The NFWI is unable to campaign on everything that members may be interested in because there must be an existing mandate on the topic. Every issue that WI members work on stems from a resolution that has been put forward by a WI or federation and debated and voted on at the Annual Meeting. Every campaign topic is decided using this democratic framework, which ensures local WI members have the opportunity to set the direction of the national organisation's policy and campaigns.
If a member would like to campaign on a topic, they should follow the resolutions process outlined here to propose it as an area of concern for the entire organisation.
Whilst the NFWI is unable to sign petitions where we have no existing mandate, WI members are free to add their individual support, and the NFWI is always open to hearing from other related campaign groups who believe that their mission may fit within the WI's remit, or that members will be keen to get involved.
Who decides which resolutions are presented at the WI Annual General Meeting?
The resolutions, which are presented at the AGM, have undergone a long and democratic process. To begin with, WI members send in resolutions to the public affairs department at the NFWI headquarter in London. A delegation of members, chosen by the federations, then decides on a shortlist of resolutions.
Once this list is published, all members can select the resolution that they support the most by completing the selection slip found in their membership magazine ("WI Life").
These results are considered by the Board of Trustees in early spring, and the Board then takes into account any developments since the resolutions were submitted and agrees the final resolution/s that will go to the Annual Meeting.
Do NFWI staff vote on issues decided by the Board of Trustees?
Democratically all policy decisions are made by the Board of Trustees. While staff do not have voting rights, they do have a role to play in providing professional information for trustees on which they base their decisions.
How did Denman get its name?
Denman, the WI's centre for learning, was opened in 1948 by educational guru Sir Richard Livingstone. It was named after Lady Denman, first Chairman of the NFWI, who had recently retired after serving as Chair for 30 years.
Is Denman exclusive to WI members?
No, Denman is open to everyone. Men and non-members are just as welcome as existing WI members.
Why not visit Denman's website today and browse its wide range of creative courses?
How many people attend the Annual General Meeting?
On average 5,000 people attend the Annual Meeting. The audience consists of members, delegates, observers, visitors and members of the press and media.
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Registered office: 104 New Kings Road, London SW6 4LY. Contact telephone number: 0207 371 9300.
Trading arm: WI Enterprises Ltd: Incorporated in England & Wales - No. 1339906.
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