25 April 2013

A Force to be Reckoned With, by Historian Jane Robinson

It was thanks to Twitter that I learned of this book about the history and eminence of the WI and I couldn’t wait to buy it. It is written in modern language with a thread of humour running through which makes for an enjoyable read.

Other books have been written about the WI and its origins, many of them factual but dull. None that I’ve read portray the original founders like real people. It is my opinion that Jane Robinson has produced a book that everybody should read and every Federation should possess. It is our history, something to be proud of.

Cover blurb:

Everyone knows three things about the Women’s Institute:
They spent the war making jam; the sensational Calendar Girls were WI members; and more recently the slow hand-clapping of Tony Blair.

But there’s so much more to this remarkable movement. Over 200,000 women in the UK belong to the WI and its membership is growing. It crosses class and religion, includes all ages – from students and metropolitan young professionals to rural centenarians – with passions that range from supporting the 1920s Bastardy Bill (in response to a wartime legacy of illegitimate babies) to the current SOS for the Honey Bees Campaign.

The WI was founded in 1915, not by worthy ladies in tweeds, but by the feistiest women in the country, including suffragettes, academics and social crusaders who discovered the heady power of sisterhood, changing women’s lives and their world in the process. Certainly its members boiled jam and sang Jerusalem, but they also made history. This fascinating book reveals for the first time how they are – and always were – a force to be reckoned with.

The chapters:

1.      The Beginnings: 1897-1913
2.      Taking Root 1913-1918
3.      The Women Carry On: 1st World War
4.      Golden Eagle: Lady Denman (this was an eye-opener!)
5.      Marthas, Marys, Pigeons and Crows: the 1920s
6.      Change the World  in an Afternoon: the 30s
7.      Mum’s Army: 2nd World War
8.      Halibut Hall and the Revolutions: 1945-1960
9.      How to Be Happy though Educated: Denman College
10.   Not According to Schedule: 1960-1999
11.    Bloody Marvellous: 1999 onwards

When I was asked to read a taster at our 81st Birthday Lunch I was hard pressed to find something to fit the allocated 15 minutes, because I couldn’t find a suitable break in the WI story. Today's the day, and I've decided to read a mid-chapter selection. I hope the members will enjoy it as much as I have. 


  1. Sounds a really interesting book Valerie, I must look out for it.

  2. smiles...with such praise from you...i imagine they will love it....sounds like a rather interesting book to me...smiles.

  3. Oh how fun. I love a good book with character! Enjoy!!

  4. I just watched Great Day with Flora Robson on Turner Classic Movie. It is about the WI in a small village during WWII. I thought about you....You are the only WI member I know.
    Katie atBankerchick Scratchings

  5. Valerie, it's ironic you posted about WI today because I just recently purchased the movie, "Calendar Girls" with Helen Mirren and Julie Walters which is about the WI.

    Very informative and interesting post. Sounds like a great book!

    The BEST to you today on your reading. I'm sure you'll be a smashing success!


  6. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. The reading went well... I even managed to relax whilst reading!! I made a few people laugh and think I 'sold' a few books as well.

    (Ron, I have the calendar at home. A copy signed by Tricia Stewart herself.)

  7. It sounds interesting! Have fun!

  8. It's my signed copy of the Calendar and I like October best!

  9. This actually sounds like an interesting read. Will be adding it to my list of future books, which I must admit, is piled very high at the moment and teetering over quite disconcertingly. If you even look at it wrong it begins to wobble and threatens to topple over completely!

  10. I'm sure they all will be fascinated by your choice.Good luck.

  11. Awesome. Hope everyone enjoyed the chapter you chose and it went well. The WI is an amazing and wonderful organization and glad to know someone that is involved with it. Take care Val.

  12. sounds like a great book! :<)

    Happy Weekend Val, G


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