History of the WI

The Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. The subsequent community efforts brought women together from all classes, who had rarely met in the past, helping to break down social barriers and encouraging all to become active citizens for a better world.

Support of the war effort in the 1940s, lead to the WI contributing to the growing and preserving of food that might otherwise have been wasted, helping to provide additional food for the nation. It is this ‘jam’ image which has stuck with us ever since.

Through the decades, the WI has played a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills. Women of the WI have taken part in a wide variety of activities, organising national cultural events such as music and drama festivals, pageants and craft exhibitions.

The WI has also encouraged women to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities. WI campaigns have highlighted issues and awareness of the times. From the countryside to sport and fitness, threats to rural postal services to new technology, and ‘Freedom from Hunger’, ‘Keeping Britain Tidy’ to ‘Buy British, Buy Local’, the WI has often been at the forefront of social and cultural change. More recently, the setting up of alliances with other organisations has helped the WI to conduct high profile campaigns.

Since our foundation in 1915, the WI’s aims have broadened and our association is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK. The WI celebrated its centenary in 2015 and currently has almost 220,000 members in approximately 6,300 WIs.