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.
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.
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.