Monday, 26 January 2015

Australia Day

As Australia celebrates its national day today (26th January) we look back through the NFWI archives at a fascinating trip to Australia, taken by then NFWI chairman, Lady Albemarle, in 1951.

With Australians preparing to mark their Jubilee year in 1951, the Australian Government invited the NFWI to attend the celebrations. The NFWI annual review that year proudly reported on this invitation:

“The federation received a signal honour through the invitation to its chairman, Lady Albemarle, from the Australian Government to attend part of the 1951 Commonwealth Jubilee Celebrations. Lady Albemarle was able to accept the invitation, and flew out to Australia early in the New Year, taking with her a gift of a footstool for the Australian House of 
Commons. The gift was gratefully acknowledged by the speaker.”

Lady Albemarle presented a gift of a footstool to the Australian Government. The footstool, pictured below, was a replica of the Speaker’s stool from the UK House of Commons. The plaque on the stool reads:

“Presented by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes to the Commonwealth of Australia on the occasion of its Jubilee Year of 1951”

Her Majesty The Queen took great interest in the trip, and Lady Albemarle received the following letter before she flew to Australia:

Dear Lady Albemarle,

The Queen has heard with interest that you have received, and accepted, the invitation of the Australian Government to their Jubilee Celebrations this spring, and that the invitation came through the Australian Country Women’s Association. 

It is a delightful compliment to the work that is being done by country women all the world over, and the Queen bids me tell you how Her Majesty rejoices to think of all the greetings and good wishes that you will carry from the Women’s Institute members here, as well as the wonderful welcome you will receive from other Australian Associations.

The Queen desires me to say how much Her Majesty will look forward to hearing all about your visit.

Yours Sincerely,
Delia Peel,

If you would like to find out more about the history of the WI, please see our website where you can read about the WI’s campaigning history, or the history of the WI as an organisation. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Stoke Road Sisters WI

Guest blog by Laura Wise, President of the Stoke Road Sisters WI

Stoke Road Sisters WI was formed in July 2014 with just a handful of interested ladies who had never been to a WI before yet wanted to make friends, learn new interests, and also contribute their existing skills and talents to others. It was very exciting getting to know each other and talking about what we would like to draw from our new WI. Very quickly a name was chosen, a strong name that would reflect our WI, and then we formed the committee, the back bone of our WI. Soon we had 70 members and we very quickly got organized and started to plan events and socials for our WI. It was amazing- before we knew it speakers were booked, newsletters were being printed, nights out organized and it really felt like this WI had been running for years and not only 4 months.

Our first speaker was a local historian, Andrew Negus, a very humorous and knowledgeable young man who talked to us about the villains and whores of old Portsmouth. It was a great start to our WI. This was followed by a chocolate making demo by a fellow WI advisor who kindly offered her talents at very short notice. We then proceeded to have a quiz night organized by two of our committee members. This was such good fun, and as we mixed people around, lots of new friendships were made. Then we had a craft meeting in which our ladies enjoyed making pin cushions and hanging decorations.

It was after this meeting that one of our committee members, a keen crafter asked if we could make felt poppies for Remembrance Day. The other committee members loved this idea and it was suggested that we could make a wreath. We agreed it would be a wonderful tribute to give this wreath to our community in memory and tribute to our armed forces. This seemed so fitting as Gosport is a military town and has strong connections to the armed forces. Many of our members are military wives, mums, Grandmas or ex-service personnel themselves. One of our ladies even has an MBE for her time in the Royal Navy.

The only problem was that Remembrance Sunday was just over four weeks away and this was going to be a real challenge. I got on to the British legion the very next day as I was determined to get the ball rolling for our ladies who were so passionate and determined to do this project. The British legion was very interested and within two days the Chair of our local British legion, Andy Brown, was in touch. Andy came along to our next meeting and met all our ladies. He was totally overwhelmed with their enthusiasm and admitted after the meeting that he had been expecting to see about 10 ladies with knitting needles not 60+ ladies full of the joys of life with laughter filling the air. Andy asked if we would like to present our Wreath at the Remembrance Service at Northcott House, a residential home set in lovely grounds in Gosport which is a living memorial for war veterans. We felt so honoured and proud to be invited alongside local councillors and local dignitaries to such a special event.

The following month we made the poppy wreath at our November meeting. Lin and Jo, the two committee members who had suggested the idea, cleverly made a template for all of our ladies to draw around and cut out a poppy. These were then stitched by hand. Some of our ladies wrote names on the back of their poppy in memory of loved ones. All our ladies wore something red to the meeting and a local photographer offered her services. We had the Military Wives and similar music playing, and it was a respectful and moving meeting.

A few days later we went to pay tribute and respect at Northcott House. Some ladies came with their partners, some turned up in military uniform. The service was beautiful, the sun shone and we were made to feel very welcome by all those involved. The local councillors were very pleased to see us there, representing not just the WI but our community too. It really was an honour to be a part of the service. We all had big lumps in our throats during the last post; it was very moving. Afterwards we were all invited into Northcott to meet the residents, and for tea and cake. It was so welcoming and lovely to meet not just the residents but the carers too. One resident we met was 99 years young and was actively chatting to us all and proudly displaying some beautiful medals. We agreed that our wreath would stay at Northcott House on display for all to enjoy. We have been invited back to the Remembrance service next year and we have also offered in return to support and help in any future events at Northcott House, from fetes to afternoon tea. We feel so honoured to be affiliated with Northcott.

The Stoke Road Sisters I am sure will grow from strength to strength, the participation in the poppy wreath and service has not only united us as friends with each other, but also with our community. We are so very proud of all that we have achieved so far and this has started the key stones for us to carry on as a strong, committed and passionate WI. We are a very mixed WI of all ages, which makes our group very fresh, fun and current, yet still keeping the traditions and ethos of the WI. We love to make new friends, try different experiences and learn something new.

I think we can proudly say we are the new generation of the WI. We look forward in continuing to make new friendships, support our community and current issues and keeping the WI traditions alive. Not bad for a WI that has only been running for 5 months.

Monday, 12 January 2015

100 Years of WI Campaigns

2015 marks 100 years since the first WI meeting was held.  The WI’s early aims - to ensure that women are able to play an effective part in their communities, to improve and develop the quality of life for everyone, and to influence local, national and international affairs on the issues that matter to members remain relevant today. Over the past 100 years, WI members have been fulfilling that remit through tireless campaigning. With roots in villages, towns and cities across England, Wales and the islands, members nationwide get behind WI campaigns, building pressure and often maintaining momentum over a period of years until they see a result. 

With new campaigns launched every year the WI has tackled many of the big issues facing our society, raising awareness of taboo issues and helping to deliver real change along the way. Here are some highlights of these campaigns:

  • In 1943 a resolution was passed calling for 'equal pay for equal work' and the WI was represented for many years on the Equal Pay Campaign Committee. Members kept up momentum for decades, lobbying the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1950s and then campaigning for equal pay in professions such as teaching. By 1970 the NFWI was backing Employment Secretary, Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Bill.
  • In 1954 a resolution to 'inaugurate a campaign to preserve the countryside against desecration by litter' led to the formation of the Keep Britain Tidy group and was influential in transforming litter policy following the introduction of the 1958 Litter Act.
  • The WI first campaigned on jury service in 1921, urging women to 'accept their full responsibilities as citizens in whatever way they may be called upon to serve their country'. In 1964 the WI were still campaigning on jury service, now calling for the removal of restrictions against women serving. This was finally achieved with the Juries Act of 1974. 

In celebration of the WI Centenary we have put together a snapshot of campaign highlights, examining the WI's role promoting women's rights, fostering health awareness, encouraging sustainable development and building a fairer society. It can be found on the website here: 

For more information about the history of WI campaigns, please see our website: