Click here to skip to main content.
Person NameNational Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI); 1915-fl.2008
Activity[The text below has been copied onto the collection-level record for 5FWI].

The National Federation of Women's Institutes (1915-), founded in 1915, grew out of a need for a body to support women in rural communities
As at 2007 The National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI) consisted of all the Women's Institutes (WIs) in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The FUNCTION of NFWI was to put into effect the wishes of the members; the means by which this is done was laid down in the Constitution and Rules.

From 1915-1917 the Women's Institute (WI) committee of the Agricultural Organisations Society (AOS), a body funded by The Development Commission was responsible for forming the first WIs in Britain. The object of the AOS was to organise farmers into co-operative societies for the purchase of agricultural requirements and for the sale of produce but there were very few women involved in this work. John Nugent Harris, the secretary of AOS, heard about the Canadian WIs from Madge Watt who was visiting from Canada. Seeing the value of the WI movement, especially in war time, to get country women working co-operatively to increase food production, he persuaded AOS to employ Madge Watt to set up WIs. The first she started were in Wales soon followed by ones in England. AOS set up a subcommittee to oversee the WI work and appointed Lady Gertrude Denman as Chair on 3 Oct 1916. In Sep 1917 the Treasury refused the AOS a further grant for WI work, realising the movement was growing they felt it more appropriate that the funding for forming new WIs should be given to the Women's Branch of the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture (which also organised the Women's Land Army). Lady Denman did not wish the WIs to be taken over by a government department and negotiated an arrangement whereby the Board of Agriculture would fund the forming of WIs but the WIs, once formed, would be self-governing. Ongoing support and policymaking would be done by a separate organisation - a National Federation of Women's Institutes. On 16 Oct 1917 delegates from the 137 existing WIs were invited to a meeting at which they agreed to the setting up of the NFWI, its Constitution and Rules. They also elected a CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF MANAGEMENT. This was subsequently renamed the NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. At the first meeting of the Central Committee of Management Lady Denman was elected Chair. As well as the elected members the committee included appointed representatives from various government departments that provided financial support or had similar interests to the newly formed NFWI
In 1917-1918 these representatives were: Miss Talbot OBE - Board of Agriculture; The Hon Mrs Hanford - National Union of Women Workers; Mr J Nugent Harris, Mr GF Hooper and Mrs Roland Wilkins - AOS
1918-1919 representatives: Miss Talbot CBE - Board of Agriculture; The Hon Mrs A Lyttelton DBE - Board of Agriculture; Mr S Bostock, Mr GF Hooper, - AOS; Lady Cowan - National Council of Women Workers.
1919-1921 representatives: Miss Talbot CBE - Ministry of Agriculture; The Hon Mrs A Lyttelton DBE - Ministry of Agriculture; Mr S Bostock- AOS
1921-1922: Dame Meriel Talbot - Ministry of Agriculture; The Hon Mrs A Lyttelton DBE - Ministry of Agriculture; Mr ATA Dobson - Ministry of Agriculture; Miss Purves - National Association of Landswomen; Mr S Bostock- AOS.

The National Executive Committee continued to have representative members until incorporation in 1990. For example in 1988-1989 the representative members were: Mr CJ Hancock LLB BA ALA - Department of the Environment; Dr JM Graham - Principal Medical Officer, Department of Health and Social Security; Mr J Coe - Chief Information Officer, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food; Dr D Hibbert - HMI, Department of Education.

From 1915 - 1917 The WIs adopted rules based on the Canadian model and agreed that they would: "a) Study home economics; b) Provide a centre for educational and social intercourse and for all local activities; c) Encourage home and local industries; d) Develop co-operative enterprises; e) Stimulate interest in the agriculture industry"
From 1917-1919, under the Board of Agriculture, WIs concentrated on food production to help the war effort.
After the First World War ended, at the AGM in 1919, a revised form of the CONSTITUTION was agreed, which was further reviewed in 1928, 1948 and 1970. The following version was used in the 1950s and 1960s:
"CHARACTER: The Women's Institute movement is based on the spiritual ideals of fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. All countrywomen are eligible for membership no matter what their views on religion or politics may be. The movement is non sectarian and non party-political.
OBJECTS: The main purpose of the Women's Institute movement is to improve and develop conditions of rural life. It seeks to give to all countrywomen the opportunity of working together through the Women's Institute organisation, and of putting into practice those ideals for which it stands. For the purpose of furthering the said objects, the Women's Institute shall have the power to: 1) Provide for the fuller education of countrywomen in citizenship, in public questions both national and international, in music , drama and other cultural subjects, also to secure instruction and training in all branches of agriculture, handicrafts, domestic science, health and social welfare; 2) Promote international understanding amongst countrywomen; 3) Provide a centre for social intercourse and activities; 4) Develop co-operative enterprise; 5) Receive and apply in and towards any of the above objects, and not otherwise, grants and other funds provided and sanctioned by the National Federation of Women's Institutes of England, Wales, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man (hereinafter referred to as ' the National Federation'); 6) Buy on behalf of all or any members any commodity, approved by the committee, and distribute and allot the same either gratuitously or at cost; 7) Do such other things as may be incidental or conducive to the attainment of the purpose of the Institute"

Subsequently changes were made: 1) To clarify the meaning of 'non-party political - 'This shall not be so interpreted as to prevent WIs from concerning themselves with matters of political or religious significance, provided that the views of minorities are respected and provided that the movement is never used for party political or sectarian purposes' (1971); 2) To clarify the meaning of 'countrywomen' - 'Countrywomen shall mean women living in rural areas and women living elsewhere who are interested in the promotion of the arts crafts and sciences associated with rural life and the improvement and development of conditions of rural life'.

In 1990 NFWI became Incorporated - a charitable company limited by Guarantee

'PREAMBLE: The Women's Institute movement is based on the ideals of fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. All women who are interested in the arts, crafts, sciences and other issues associated with rural life (called countrywomen in this Memorandum of Association) may join no matter what their vies on religion or politics may be. The movement is non-sectarian and non-party political. This does not prevent WIs from concerning themselves with matters of political or religious significance, provided that the views of minorities are respected and provided that the movement is never used for party political or sectarian purposes. WIs are charitable and everything they do must be consistent with that special legal status. OBJECTS: The objects of the National Federation are to enable countrywomen to take an effective part in the improvement and development of the conditions of rural life, to advance their education in citizenship, in public questions both national and international, in music, drama and other cultural subjects, and secure instruction and training for them in all branches of agriculture, handicrafts, domestic science, health and social welfare. It exists to give all countrywomen the opportunity of working together through the Women's Institute organisation, and of putting into practice those ideals for which it stands. POWERS include: * To form, assist and advise Federations; * To form, assist and advise WIs; * To promote international understanding; * To organise conferences, course of instruction, exhibitions, lectures and other educational activities; * To publish books pamphlets reports leaflets journals films tapes and instructional matter'.

From 2000 the full Memorandum and Articles were available as a down-load from the NFWI website

From 1990 the WIs and Federations elected an Executive committee/ Board of Trustees every two years by postal ballot. In 1990 the number of Trustees was 17 plus the chair of the Wales committee ex officio and the power to co-opt up to 4 others

In 2002 a revised constitution reduced the number on the Board of Trustees to 14 including the chair of the Wales committee ex officio.

From 1917 the Central Committee of Management (subsequently the National Executive Committee and then The Board of Trustees) appointed Standing Sub-Committees to consider and make recommendations regarding areas of interest and special issues within the scope of their terms of reference. The sub-committees co-opted people with specialist knowledge to give expert advice. Their recommendations and reports were passed to the Executive Committee for decision. Ad Hoc committees, and working parties were set up from time to time to complete specific tasks.
The committee structure has changed over the years, the names of the committees have been changed but similar areas of work have been covered.
The Literature and Publishing subcommittee of the National Federation of Women's Institutes was set up in 1917 and produced, for sale, a variety of stationery for Women's Institute use, for example the Handbook, committee minute books, and account books and a variety of leaflets and booklets to instruct on the running of the organisation (see 5FWI/G). Also published were many instruction booklets on craft, cookery and other subjects (see 5FWI/E).

In 1919 The Consultative Council was established as a forum where the National Executive Committee and the elected Consultative Council Representatives from every Federation could meet, usually twice a year, to discuss national policy and comment on budgetary and other financial matters including (from 1976) amount and division of the annual subscriptions of members.
In 1981 this body was replaced by the National Council, made up of the National Executive Committee and the Chairs and Treasurers of the Federations. The Council received reports from the Executive Committee had the power to make recommendations to the Executive Committee by majority vote. Until 2006 it met twice a year and at the spring meeting considered resolutions submitted for the AGM and advised the Executive Committee on which ones should be placed on the final agenda.
From 1917 onwards NFWI has nominated members, or employees, to represent them on other bodies with similar or complimentary interests. These people were listed in the Annual Report. Also listed there were those people who served on outside bodies in a personal capacity but reported to the NFWI.
The Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) was established in 1933, and NFWI affiliated to it and sent delegates to Area Conferences and to Triennial meetings.

When sufficient WIs were formed in a County the WIs joined together to form a County Federation. As at 2007 there were 70 county and Island Federations, each with a regional office, each level of the organisation was run by a committee of elected members. The NFWI Board of Trustees was democratically elected every two years by the members.

The first paid staff members were employed by NFWI in 1918. NFWI employed staff for the London HQ and also various specialist organisers who travelled to advise the Federations and WIs on handicrafts, agriculture and horticulture, marketing, education and general organisation matters. From 1948 NFWI employed staff at Denman College

1917-1919 - The Landswoman - (shared with The Women's Land Army)
1919-2006 - Home and Country - a subscription magazine, published monthly
2007 - WI Life - a membership magazine published eight times a year

1919 NFWI Publications Department, published leaflets and booklets providing advice to members to help them run the organisation, and also of an educational nature.
1977 - WI Books Ltd, published books and leaflets for internal use but also to sell on the open market and raise funds.

WI BOOKS AND WI ENTERPRISES - incorporating the publishing activities and the production of the WI magazine as well as the trading arm of NFWI, was set up to raise funds and provide benefits for members.
Because of its charitable status, in the 1970s the National Federation of Women's Institutes had to set up separate trading companies for any money raising activities. These covered producing the National Federation of Women's Institutes magazine, selling display and classified advertisements, marketing goods, producing the diary and other publications. These separate companies covenanted profits back to the National Federation of Women's Institutes.
In 1977 'WI Books' was registered as a separate company and began to commission books, mostly on craft and cookery, to be sold to the public as well as Women's Institute members. At the same time 'WI Trading' and the magazine Home and Country were also raising funds. By 1997 however WI Books ceased to be profitable and it stopped trading and was replaced by 'WI Enterprises' which brought together WI Books, WI trading and Home and Country.
WI Enterprises introduced new sales items regularly, often linked with National Federation of Women's Institutes events such as the Annual General Meeting. It also produced catalogues of items for sale and sold via the National Federation of Women's Institutes website.

1919 - First Women's Institute Market started in Lewes as an outlet for surplus produce. WI Markets spread to other areas to allow members and other share holders to market the products of their gardens, kitchens and craft skills.
In 1932 NFWI received a grant from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust to expand the markets and they were formally registered as co-operatives under the Industrial Provident & Friendly Societies Act.
Neither NFWI nor the County Federations had legal control over markets but had responsibility to encourage their formation and development and to provide education in marketing for all WI members wishing to participate
By 1992 the combined annual turnover of the Markets reached £10m and in 1995 WI Markets separated from NFWI were renamed WI Country Markets and became self-financing. In 2004 WI Country Markets Ltd shareholders voted to discontinue the use of the WI initials, at the request of NFWI, and became Country Markets Ltd. (

1915-1917 the work of forming WIs was funded by AOS. Once formed the WIs became self funded
1917-1919 the work of forming WIs was funded by The Board of Agriculture, and grants were provided for the formation of County Federations, after which they became self funded.
1920-1927 NFWI received grants for core funding from Development Commission, the amount given gradually decreased until they stopped in 1927.
1927 onward income to run NFWI came from: share of annual membership subscriptions; grant-making bodies, educational trusts; commercial sponsors; WI Enterprises trading arm; investments; gifts, donations, and legacies.

The coat of arms comprises the following symbols: the Bar Dancetty and the Pallet are ancient heraldic charges which form the letters 'WI'. The pierced suns are a pun on Lady Denman's maiden name of Pearson as well as being symbols of education, energy and light. The lion in the crest is quartered in the Welsh colours and may be taken to represent England and Wales. The lion holds a distaff, a feminine symbol. The heron supporters are symbols of the countryside and are associated with all the elements, as they fish in the water, nest on the land and fly in the air.

1915 the Agricultural Organisations Society (AOS) employed Madge Watt to start WIs in Britain (Aug 1915 )
1915 Madge Watt started the first WI in Britain at Llanfair PG on Anglesey (11 Sep 1915), President : Mrs Stapleton Cotton
1915 AOS started a WI sub committee (Nov 1915)
1916 (summer) Lil Nugent Harris became secretary of the AOS WI committee
1916 (autumn) AOS invited Mrs Drage and Mrs Stapleton Cotton onto the WI sub committee and Lady Denman appointed Chairman
1917 The Treasury refused AOS a further grant for WI work (Sep 1917). Responsibility for forming WIs passed to the Women's Branch of the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture (who were also concerned with the Women's Land Army)
1917 first County Federation formed (Sussex on 5 Sep 1917)
1917 first Annual General Meeting of WI delegates held on 16 Oct 1917
1917 NFWI formed
1917 Lady Denman Elected Chair of Central Committee of Management
1918 NFWI exhibition and sale in Caxton Hall
1918 first training school for Voluntary County Organisers(VCOs) held Burgess Hill, Sussex (on 6 - 24 May 1918)
1918 AGM decided not to form WIs in towns
1919 Home and Country published for the first time (Mar 1919)
1919 Special General Meeting agreed a new national executive committee structure (15 Oct 1919) the AGM on 16 Oct 1919 agreed new constitution and rules for post war times
1919 first Consultative Council meeting
1919 General Endowment Fund started
1920 Grant of £10,000 made from the Development Commissioners for general organisation, with promise of continuing but decreasing grants until the movement should become self supporting
1920 Guild of Learners of Handicrafts set up
1921 Endowment fund started £12,000 raised
1921 First grant received from Development Commissioners for work with handicrafts
1922 system of annual voluntary donations to NFWI funds from County Federations on behalf of WIs started
1923 AGM decided that WI membership was open to women and girls only
1923 Formation of Welsh Counties Conference
1926 Last grant received from the Development Commissions for general organisation
1926 NFWI's claim for exemption from Income Tax allowed on appeal
1928 First National Drama Festival
1928 First report on the Constitution
1932 AGM decided that fares of all delegates to the meeting should be pooled
1932 Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (CUKT) grant awarded for 3 years to organise and increase WI Co-operative markets
1933 Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) started
1939 First grant from the Development Commissioners for agricultural work
1939 Produce Guild Formed
1940 Questionnaire to WIs about experiences with housing evacuees, resulting in the report 'Town Children through Country eyes'
1940 First grant from Ministry of Food, NFWI began to administer the Ministry's fruit preservation scheme
1945 AGM instructed NFWI executive committee to establish a Women's Institute College
1946 Ministry of Food/NFWI preservation scheme ended
1946 NFWI Combined Arts Festival
1946 CUKT grant awarded to start WIs in the Channel Islands
1947 'Operation Produce' launched
1947 First WI in the Channel Islands established
1948 Denman College opened (24 Sep 1948)
1948 First grant received from the Ministry of Education of the 'development of liberal education for women'
1948 'Home Produce' Exhibition
1948 Second report on the Constitution
1949 First WI formed in the Isle of Man
1949 Federation of Wales committee set up
1950 Jersey and Guernsey Federations affiliated to NFWI
1950 National Singing Festival - 'Folk Songs of the Four Seasons' by Ralph Vaughan Williams - Albert Hall
1951 Isle of Man Federation affiliated to NFWI
1951 Denman College Endowment Fund established
1951 First WI Market Place at the Ideal Home Exhibition
1952 Crafts Exhibition at Victoria and Albert Museum
1955 AGM decision led to formation of Keep Britain Tidy Group
1957 National Drama Festival - 'Out of this Wood' commissioned Robert Gittins
1961 AGM pledges WI support for Freedom from Hunger Campaign
1961 WI Market Place at the Ideal Homes Exhibition
1962 NFWI 'Country Feasts and Festivals' competition at the Dairy Show
1963 National Art Exhibition 'Painting for Pleasure' at the Galleries of the Federation of British Artists
1965 WI Golden Jubilee celebrated
1965 AGM - rule limiting the formation of WIs to places with a population of under 4,000 rescinded
1968 National appeal for half a million pounds launched, to improve the financial position of NFWI
1969 'The Brilliant and the Dark' specially commissioned operatic sequence for women's voices by Malcolm Williamson and Ursula Vaughan Williams Performed in the Albert Hall by WI members
1969 National appeal reached target
1970 Third report on the Constitution
1970 CUKT grant for three year 'Town and Country Project'
1970 Queen Mother opened the new Teaching Centre at Denman College
1971 AGM agreed change to interpretation of the non-party political and non-sectarian rules
1971 Olive Farquharson elected world president of ACWW
1972 'This Green and Pleasant Land?' exhibition at Ideal Homes Exhibition at Olympia
1972 Produce and Handicraft Guilds ceased, to enable all WI members to share these activities without additional payment
1974 Local Government reorganisation of boundaries and NFWI decided to realign Federation boundaries
1975 WI Diamond Jubilee celebrated
1975 'Tomorrow's Heirlooms' exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute
1975 Avon and West Midlands, new Federations affiliated to NFWI
1976 AGM decided to allow the amount and division of the annual subscription to be decided in future by NFWI executive committee in consultation with Consultative Council representatives
1977 Humberside Federation affiliated to NFWI
1977 WI Book Ltd registered as a privately owned company
1978 Tyne and Wear north and South Federations affiliated to NFWI
1979 The Queen opened the Home Economics Centre at Denman College
1980 National Drama Festival 'Scene 80' finals at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford on Avon
1980 NFWI Wales office opened in Cardiff
1981 Consultative Council disbanded and National Council formed
1982 'Early one Morning' composed by Antony Hopkins performed by WI choirs.
1983 WI Promotion 'Women in the Community' launched
1983 Cleveland, East Yorkshire, North Yorkshire East, North Yorkshire West, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire Federations affiliated to NFWI
1984 'WI Life and Leisure' Exhibition at Olympia
1985 £1 million appeal launched for essential repairs to Denman College and to set up .
1988 WI designed 'Countrywoman's Garden' won gold medal and the Wilkinson's sword at the Chelsea Flower Show
1990 NFWI became incorporated (company limited by Guarantee)
1990 NFWI HQ moved to Fulham;
1991 First Triennial General Meeting - Birmingham
1993 NFWI/NFU conference - 'Caring for the Countryside'
1994 'Rural Carers' conference
1995 WI Markets became independent of NFWI as 'Country Markets''
1998 'Pathway to the 21st century' launched
1999 'The Changing Village' published
2000 Prime minister Tony Blair spoke at AGM
2000 'Craft Spectacular' exhibition at Tatton Park, Cheshire
2000 NFWI web site launched
2002 'What women want' campaign
2003 'Chemicals and Health' campaign
2004 NFWI/National Needlework Archive project to record WI textiles
2004 NFWI archives deposited at The Women's Library
2005 '90@90' report published

Details of membership 1915-2005 are below. The year is given, followed by the number of WIs and then the total number of members:
1915 / 12
1916 / 37
1917 / 187 / 5,198
1918 / 773 / 12,007
1919 / 1,405 / 55,015
1920 / 1,914 / 99,418
1930 / 4,654 / 291,570
1939 / 5,720 / 331,600
1943 / 5,825 / 287,900
1947 / 6,682 / 379,000
1950 / 7,505 / 446,675
1954 / 8,178 / 467,000
1955 / 8,265 / 462,500
1956 / 8,314 / 457,000 (peak)
1960 / 8,489 / 444,737
1970 / 9,110 / 436,002
1981 / 9,306 (peak)
1985 / 9,242 / 353,502
1994 / 8,496 / 258,852
1997 / 8,047 / 257,700
2000 / 7,000 / 220,000
2005 / 6,800 / 211,000
Corporate NameNational Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI)

    Powered by CalmView© 2008-2021