100 years of the WI

As the Women's Institute celebrates its centenary, we look back at the last 100 years of campaigning.

1915 First UK WI meeting held at Llanfairpwll, Anglesey, on September 16; first meeting in England held at The Fox in Singleton, West Sussex
1917 National Federation of Women’s Institutes formed on October 16
1919 First WI market, at Lewes, East Sussex; Sandringham branch formed with Queen Mary as the president
1921 WI urges Government to open up jury service for all, leading, eventually, to the Juries Act in 1974; WI member Margaret Winteringham becomes second female MP
1922 Campaigns for more police-women (women now comprise 25% of the force)
1924 Sings Jerusalem at AGM for the first time
1930 Passes resolutions calling for protection of ancient buildings and improvements to village water supplies
1938 WI War Week held to discuss potential evacuation at time of Munich crisis; WI chairman Lady Denman takes on the Women’s Land Army as well
1939 Produce Guild formed to boost home-grown food
1940 Ministry of Food allocates 430 tons of sugar to WI jam-making
1942 Eleanor Roosevelt and Clementine Churchill visit Barham WI in Kent and meet Franklin the pig—a newspaper leaks the information and the following day a train at Barham is blitzed
1943 Passes resolution to call for ‘equal pay for equal work’, leading, eventually, to Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act (1970); The Queen thanks the WI for its contribution to the war effort; Princess Elizabeth joins Sandringham branch
1948 Opens Denman College to provide courses in cooking and crafts
1950 Passes resolution that parents can visit children in hospital as often as they like (fewer than 25% of hospitals allowed daily visiting)
1951 Ideal Home Exhibition
features WI house designed by members; Festival of Britain gives Constance Howard’s 14ft by 16ft The Country Wife textile mural to the WI
1954 Passes resolution to preserve countryside from desecration by litter, which leads to the formation of Keep Britain Tidy, run by WI chairman Lady Brunner for 19 years; Queen Mother attends AGM
1963 Calls on Government for co-ordinated rural public transport
1964 Passes resolution to ban smoking in public places (it was banned on London Underground in 1984 and in public buildings in 2007)
1965 Commissions Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis to write poem for the Golden Jubilee
1973 Free family planning is enshrined in law, thanks to WI pressure
1975 Diamond Jubilee; lobbies for breast-screening clinics (which arrive in 1988)
1978 AGM topics include support for doorstep milk deliveries and concern about marine pollution
1979 Members lobby successfully for exemption from registering their kitchens with local authorities before selling jam
1988 Lobbies against CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), such as those used in aerosols
1990 The Queen addresses the AGM
1999 Members of the Rylstone & District WI pose nude for a calendar to raise money for leukaemia research (it sold 88,000 copies, raised £4 million and inspired the film Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters)
2000 Organises ‘Buy British, buy local’ fortnight; AGM attendees slow-hand-clap Prime Minister Tony Blair for making an overly political speech
2001 WI pressurises Government to support family farms hit by foot-and-mouth disease
2005 Holds action day in which excess food packaging is returned to supermarkets in protest
2007 Launches Great Milk Debate, in which 15,000 people participate in 100 debates to raise awareness of the challenges facing dairy farmers, a topic frequently revisited
2008 Some 10,000 members pledge to reduce their carbon footprint by 20% in the WI Carbon Challenge; it’s estimated that the savings achieved would fill the Albert Hall 108 times over with CO2
2009 Launches SOS for Honey-bees campaign to promote bee-friendly gardening and awareness
2011 Supports a Close the Door campaign to persuade shopkeepers to shut their doors to prevent loss of heat; launches Love Your Libraries campaign; launches Let’s Cook Local (basic cookery courses for young families)
2012 A knit-in by 3,083 members at the AGM enters Guinness World Records for the most people knitting simultaneously
2013 Lobbies for a charge on plastic bags in shops as part of Excess Baggage campaign; calls for support of the high street and local shops
2014 Members join the UN climate march in London; WI contributes to Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy
2015 The centenary: members take a cake stall to Glastonbury for the first time and the AGM is attended by The Queen, The Princess Royal and The Countess of Wessex, who are presented with fruitcake