This year the WI celebrates its centenary. With 212,000 members across 6,600 WIs it is the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK.
The Pershore Branch of the WI is one of the earliest in the country, established in November 1916, and next year, the group will celebrate their centenary. One of the fascinating things about the history of this famous movement for women is how significant a feminist organisation it has been, from the very start.
Formed in 1915, the primary aim of the WI was to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved with producing food during the First World War. Despite this, the WI aimed to be inclusive and even today it remains strictly non-party political and non-religious.
Maggie Andrews, currently updating her book – The Acceptable Face of Feminism: The Women’s Institute as a Social Movement – has recently contributed to an article in the Big Issue North, which celebrates those founding women members and provides an overview of the organisation’s development.
Worcestershire women were very involved in the early development of the WI, since, at the time of the First World War, the county was predominantly rural and relied on the agricultural prosperity of its farmers and smallholders.
We are beginning to discover that Lord Coventry (the 9th Earl), his wife, Blanche Lady Coventry, daughter-in-law, Viscountess Deerhurst and their near neighbour, Minnie, Lady Hindlip, were all highly instrumental in the establishment of the WI and the administration of the Land Army during the wartime years. A neighbour from Redditch joined them in this work: Lady Isabel Margesson, clearly a woman of energy and determination, since she was a suffragist before the war and became a JP for the county afterward.
There is still a lot of research to do on this topic – who were the early members of the Pershore WI? How were they involved in fruit production and preservation for the war effort? How did they work to help local families to cope with the increasing amount of food shortages as the wartime blockades took hold? And what was the legacy of this early feminist movement in the Vale?
If you have stories to share about the WI in the Vale then please do get in touch and tell us!