First British WI Meeting
At the outset the WI was jam, if not Jerusalem – the adoption of that song as its anthem came later: but the raison d’etre of the association as far as the government body which sponsored its implantation in Britain was concerned was food production, preserving, and efficient use; and more broadly, to revitalise rural communities with an eye to boosting agriculture – WWI was already affecting British food supplies.
The WI was actually a Canadian invention, a counterpart to the Farmers’ Institute there, and it can be traced back to a meeting in Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1897. There too it had strong links to government. It was a Canadian woman, Madge Watt, who was recruited to establish a similar organisation in Britain, her first meeting with John Harris of the Agricultural Organisation Society taking place on February 11 1915.
Ms Watt began her work in Wales, and the first WI to be set up by her was in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll , Anglesey (also known by its full name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch)
Though established with government support, the WI has earned a reputation over the years as independent and sometimes radical: it backed the campaign for women’s suffrage; it supported nurses in the 1930s fighting for better conditions; it was the first group in the UK to push the government to confront the AIDS epidemic; and famously in 2000 it ‘hand-bagged’ Tony Blair , slow-handclapping his long-winded and somewhat self-serving speech to their Wembley conference.
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