Celebrating 100 years of the WI Roots of an institution
THE first formal Women’s Institute meeting in the UK was held in Llanfairpwll on Anglesey on September 16,1915.
The organisation has its roots in Canada, where the first Women’s Institute was formed in 1897 in Stoney Creek, Ontario, as a branch of the Farmer’s Institute.
Supported by the Agricultural Organisation Society it was founded to educate rural women and to encourage them to get involved in growing and preserving food during the First World War.
Madge Watt, who had been a member in Canada but who had moved to Sussex, helped set up the Llanfairpwll group in September 1915 after landowner Colonel Richard Stapleton-Cotton and his wife Jane invited her to address the women of Llanfairpwll.
Period newspapers tell of a “well-attended” meeting where women were taught how to preserve fruit and vegetables.
Chair of the Anglesey Federation of Women’s Institute, Audrey Jones, said: “She had been trying to encourage women to start branches for two years before she arrived in Llanfairpwll.
“She addressed a group in May 1915 and visited the area again in June but it was not until September that the branch met formally for the first time and elected a committee.
“After that decision was taken the first branch meeting proper was held on the 25th and has been meeting regularly ever since.”
The Llanfairpwll branch now has 21 members. The branch retains a very traditional feel – its recent meetings involved talks on the RSPB, the Anglesey coastline and flower arranging.
It is one of 23 WI branches on the island with two new branches established during the course of the year.
The WI is still the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK with more than 212,000 members in more than 6,500 branches.
Mrs Jones has looked back over the past century to map the history of the Llanfairpwll group and to mark the centenary a book chronicling the first meeting - A Grain of Mustard Seed: an account of the found- ing of the first Women’s Institute in Great Britain - has been re-printed by the federation.
It has been a busy year for the Anglesey Federation.
“In addition to the branch there is a small museum in the building and thousands of people have visited the exhibition over the year.
“This year has been particularly busy. We have welcomed 34 groups from WI branches so far this year and we have four more due to visit.
“They come from all over, we’ve had groups from the Isle of Wight, Nottingham and Bristol and we make each of them a meal. It takes a lot of work,” she said.
celebrations, added Mrs Jones, have been continuing throughout 2015 and will climax for the Anglesey Federation with a dinner in Trearddur Bay.
“We’ve had various events this year and many have been memorable. We linked up via satellite to the AGM held in the Royal Albert Hall from Llanfairpwll but we decided on a dinner in September.
“We also decided to raise money for a nominated charity and we’ll be handing over a cheque to a Wales Air Ambulance representative during the evening,” she said.
For more information about the Anglesey WI log on to thewi.org.uk or phone 01248 717600.
An early meeting of the Llanfairpwll WI, circa 1920. Right, she sign on WI HQ