This is an abridged version of an article written by Sally Clark, local historian, Windlesham.
The first Women’s Institute (WI) was established in Canada and brought women in isolated farming communities together and offered training in home economics, child care and small farm animal husbandry. In 1915, the Agricultural Organisation Society appointed a Canadian, Madge Watt, to set up WIs across the UK. The ethos was to ‘give women a voice and to be a force for good.’
The movement grew so quickly it was passed to the Board of Agriculture to fund its formation, but in October 1917 it became independent when the National Federation of Women’s Institutes was set up and a committee with Lady Denman as its Chairman was elected.
Windlesham’s WI was set up in 1917. Sarah Boyce was elected President. The first campaign was to encourage country women to get involved in growing and preserving food to help increase the supply to the ‘worn torn nation of WW1’. Membership was mixed and included both ladies from the large houses in the village and their employees. Meetings were held at the Institute in Kennel Lane.
The WI published a magazine called Home and Country which sold at 2d. a copy. In the first edition, dated March 1919, the Windlesham WI offered for sale a book of ‘War Time Recipes’ compiled by members at 3.5d. (including postage). Most of the recipes contained potatoes in some form and haricot, butter and baked beans also featured heavily. There were methods to use sour milk, increase the weight of butter and double the weight of sausages by skinning them and adding mashed potato.
By 1919 the Windlesham WI’s activities had expanded to include a drama group. In the 1920s a national Guild of Learners of Handicrafts was formed for members. Members were also encouraged to stand for parish and district councils and committees dealing with health and housing.
Windlesham’s WI continued its work during WWII and beyond. It remains active today.
Sally records her thanks to Jean Harmes, President, for her help and access to their archives.