Why was Jerusalem chosen as the WI’s anthem?
The decision to choose Jerusalem came as a result of a letter to Home and Country, the December prior to the 8th AGM, from Vice Chairman Grace Hadow suggesting its use. Members wrote in favour of this suggestion.
The letter headed 'An Institute song', by Grace Hadow:
"I have recently been at Exhibitions or Council meetings at which the whole assembly has joined in singing Sir Hubert parry's setting of Blake's Jerusalem.Many WI members have said how much they would like to sing it at our Annual Meeting in London, and I write to urge that WIs or County Federations which approve of this suggestion might write to Headquarters and ask if this could be arranged. It should be clearly understood that when a WI makes this request it pledges itself to learn words and tune by heart. The attempt cannot be a success unless every delegate is ready to sing whether she thinks she can sing or whether she thinks she can't. Both words and music are simple and dignified and easy to learn. Incidentally the learning would give pleasure to any WI and would afford an excellent opportunity for a short talk either on Blake's poetry, or on poems about England. We have long looked in vain for a national 'Institute Song'. Here is one made to our hand and one which some counties have already adopted. Yours truly, Grace E. Hadow"
A Mr Leslie of Llansantffraid, an amateur musician, persuaded Sir Walford Davies, a personal friend and composer, to make a special arrangement for string orchestra for the 8th AGM, which he himself conducted the singing, bringing a choir from local WIs with him to lead. In the 1920s, many WIs were forming choirs and seeking help and advice. The Shropshire Federation was the first to form a music sub-committee and they invited Mr W H Leslie to advise them. So successful was this that Mr Leslie was invited by the NFWI to conduct singing schools in the county federations round the country and also to write articles about choirs and music for WI Home and Country. As mentioned earlier, Mr Leslie, of Llansantffraid on the Shropshire-Montgomery border, was a personal friend of the composer Sir Walford Davies, and was himself deeply involved in amateur music.The first WI Choral Competition was held in Sussex in 1923, and very soon other federations followed. The first one-day school for village conductors was held in London in early 1924 with Mr Leslie in charge. All went back to their federations pledged to help to train other conductors and there was a great need for suitable music for these choirs to sing. With Mr Leslie's help, the NFWI brought out the first Women's Institute Song Book - a collection of songs particularly suitable for singing at monthly meetings.
Although Jerusalem was sung at the AGM, at this point it had not been adopted as the official song. Lady Denman recalled that the NFWI ran a competition for an 'Institute song', hoping that it might produce a good but unknown poet. Many poems were sent in but nothing suitable was found; it was after receiving a verse that began, 'We are a band of earnest women' that Grace Hadow, the Vice-chairman, suggested that Jerusalem should become the WI song. Jerusalem had been used by the National Union of Suffrage Societies in the 1918 celebrations of women's enfranchisement, and many of the leaders of the NFWI, including Grace Hadow, had been part of that struggle to win the vote for women. Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the suffragists, wrote to Hubert Parry, 'Your Jerusalem ought to be made the women voters' hymn', which of course in a way it was, being adopted by the WI.
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