Edith Rigby (1872-1948)
Edith Rigby was the founder of Lancashire’s first Women’s Institute, opened at Hutton and Howick in 1918.
At first glance she would appear to be utterly conventional. She was a doctor’s wife from Preston, elegant, stylish and comfortably off. But Edith stood apart from her middle-class peers: she developed an interest in the social conditions of local mill-workers and was an ardent suffragette.
In fact, she became a notorious public menace, whose offences included sprinkling acid on a golf course; setting fire to the industrialist Lord Leverhulme’s bungalow at Rivington Pike and to the Blackburn Rovers’ football ground; and hurling first black puddings and then bombs (both commendably home-made) at Winston Churchill when he visited the Liverpool Cotton Exchange in 1913.
Edith was imprisoned seven times, went on hunger strike and was force-fed – and believed the Women’s Institute to be utterly cutting-edge. It is “a pillar supporting the temple of national enlightenment”, she proudly claimed. To her, the most important thing about the WI was its potential to inspire members to act on their beliefs; to give them the confidence to stand up and be counted. She is still fondly remembered in her hometown.