History

The WI has been inspiring women for over 100 years. Discover more about our history, from our origins through to the present day.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Women have been granted the vote, British women have climbed Everest for the first time and the country has elected its first female prime minister. The Women's Institute has been a constant throughout, gathering women together, encouraging them to acquire new skills and nurturing unique talents.

Formed in 1915, the Women's Institute was originally brought to life to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Since then the organisation's aims have broadened and the WI is now the largest voluntary women's organisation in the UK. The below timeline highlights the most important milestones of our longstanding history. If you wish to receive further information on the history of the WI, please get in touch with the Communications Department using the contact form.

WI Centenary Cake

  1. 1910s

    In 1915, the first WI meeting in Britain is held in Anglesey (Wales). Three years later, members pass the first resolution urging local authorities to take advantage of the government scheme for state-aided housing. By then 137 WIs have opened.

  2. 1920s

    1924 marks the year WI members sing "Jerusalem" for the very first time. Little did they know that their "performance" at the Annual General Meeting at Queen's Hall (London) would start a tradition that continues to this day.

  3. 1930s

    With funding from the government, the WI sets up a Produce Guild to encourage members to produce more home-grown food and preserve fruit and vegetables.

  4. 1940s

    Denman College, the WI's centre for learning, opens its doors to students.

  5. 1950s

    After passing a resolution to start a national anti-litter campaign, the WI and 25 other UK organisations form the Keep Britain Tidy group.

  6. 1960s

    The WI celebrates its Golden Jubilee, including a Royal Garden Party at the Buckingham Palace.

  7. 1970s

    During the Great Jam Debate, the NFWI successfully lobbies for members to be exempt from having to register with the local authority to sell jam to the public.

  8. 1980s

    After voting for more information to be made available to the public around HIV and AIDS at the Annual General Meeting in 1986, WI members campaign to raise awareness on the immunodeficiency virus.

  9. 1990s

    In the 1990s, the WI not only celebrates its 75th anniversary with Her Majesty The Queen addressing the AGM but also becomes a charitable company limited by guarantee. In 1993, the NFWI becomes a founding member of the Fair Trade Foundation.

  10. 2000s

    Tony Blair, British Prime Minister at that time, send the WI off into the new millennium with a buzz-generating speech at the 2000 Annual General Meeting. In 2007, the new membership magazine WI Life launches and becomes part of every member’s subscription. Only two years later, the WI Cookery School opens at Denman College.

  11. 2010s

    After breaking the world record for knitting at the AGM in 2012, WI members have even more reason to celebrate in 2015 as the Women's Institute marks its centenary. A year of festivities begins, including the WI Centennial Fair and Her Majesty The Queen addressing over 5,000 members at the Annual General Meeting at the Royal Albert Hall.


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