Lady Denman 1884 - 1954
Lady Denman was born Gertrude Mary Pearson, called Trudie by her family. Daughter of Weetman Pearson (later Baron Cowdray), the oil magnate and newspaper baron, she was a sound business woman, having learned much from her father. She was also experienced in committee work; alongside her mother she was a member of the executive committee of the Women's Liberal Federation and gave active support to the women's suffrage movement.
In 1903 Trudie married Thomas, the third Baron Denman. In 1911 Lord Denman was appointed Governor General of Australia and so, at a very young age, Trudie became First Lady. They and their two children returned home in 1914 to find Britain on the brink of war.
The Agricultural Organisations Society (AOS), encouraged by John Nugent Harris and Madge Watt, were committed to setting up Women's Institutes following the Canadian pattern. They invited Trudie to become the Chairman of the WI sub-committee. She was an ideal person; owning her own estate at Balcombe in Sussex, she saw how hard life could be for countrywomen and tried to make life a little easier - for example, all her estate cottages had piped water and sanitation, a rare luxury in those days. She was President of the Women's Section of the Poultry Association and had plans for promoting small holdings; she believed strongly in the right and ability of women to conduct their own affairs.
When the NFWI was formed in 1917, Lady Denman was elected the first National Chairman. She was a remarkable leader, not only of the WI. She was also the first Chairman of the Family Planning Association, President of the Ladies Golf Union, a Trustee of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust and a Director of the Westminster Press. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Trudie was invited by the Minister of Agriculture to become the Director of the Women's Land Army. For this work she was awarded the Grand Cross of the British Empire in 1951.
She finally retired as Chairman of NFWI in 1946. At the AGM she said:
"I think that countrywomen are the salt of the earth. I do not feel they get a fair deal, and I have always thought that if we got together we could do something about it; and it has been extraordinarily satisfactory to me because we have been able to do something about it. It has given me the very greatest happiness."
Lady Denman l-r 1919 in Women's Land Army uniform
1930s as NFWI Chair
1940s as NFWI chair and Director of Women's Land Army
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