1915- While the first WI was set up in Canada in 1897, it only reached British shores in 1915. It was initially established to encourage women from the British countryside to grow and preserve food in a bid to increase food supply in a nation that was ravaged by war. The first British WI met on Anglesey in North Wales on September 16th 1915.
1919- 4 years after the creation of the first British WI, 1400 WIs were counted throughout England and Wales. The organisation had its own magazine and the early years saw campaigns for free school milk for children, extra women police officers and more midwives for rural communities.
1921- Mrs Margaret Winteringham, a prominent member of the WI, was elected as a Member of Parliament. As a result, she became the first English born female MP and only the second woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament. Members of the WI often suggested that she was ‘Our Institute MP’. She was also the first woman to represent a rural constituency.
1941- The National Federation of Women’s Institute carried out a famous survey among WI members called ‘Town Children through Country Eyes’. It dealt with the issues housing evacuees from the war in the countryside. The survey gained national attention and ultimately led to the provision of family allowances after the war.
1943- In their first Annual General Meeting in 4 years, the Women’s Institute brought up discussion about gender equality throughout the country in the education system as well as in the workplace.
1965- The WI celebrated their Golden Jubilee. The Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom C. Day Lewis wrote a poem named The WIs to commemorate the occasion. The theme of the jubilee was The Countryside Tomorrow, which encouraged the care of natural features such as wildflowers, birds and animals.
1986- Keeping up with their reputation of being ahead of their time, the WI was one of the first groups to bring up the issue of AIDS in the country. After a vote during an Annual General Meeting, members decided to encourage a better dissemination of information on HIV and AIDS to the public.
1999- Angela Baker and her friends from the Rylstone WI released a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. Mrs Baker’s husband died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma the year before. The calendar became an instant hit and it has raised over £3 million pounds over the years. A movie based on the story was released in 2003 featuring Helen Mirren.
2001- According to a survey in 1000 WIs, members volunteered a total close to 3.5 million hours every year. During the same year, the National Federation of Women’s Institute was invited to join the Rural Task Force to tackle the new issues occurring at the turn of the century.
2015- The WI celebrates its 100 years of existence in the UK. With over 200,000 members and around 6500 institutes, the WI is one of the most active volunteer groups in the country. With members from various age groups, the WI is a force to be reckoned with and is here to stay.