WI History

The Women's Institute (WI)

The Women’s Institute or “WI” as it is affectionately known was born across the Atlantic in a small town called Stoney Creek in Ontario Canada, where In 1897 Mrs Adelaid Hoodless started a social and educational movement for women.

In 1913 Mrs Alfred Watt, who had worked at WI Headquarters in Canada, came to live in London and tried without success to start WIs in the South of England.

In 1914 the First World War started and as food production was vital, the Agricultural Organisation Society was set up to advise the Government.

In June 1915 Mrs Watt was invited to Bangor University to address the Society. There she met Col J Stapleton Cotton who lived in Llanfairpwil, Anglesey where he worked tirelessly to benefit the local community. He invited a group of local ladies to meet Mrs Watt and consider starting a WI.

On 16 September 1915 the WI was officially founded in Llanfairpwil and six months later there were more than 100 Institutes. There are now 6,600 WIs and 210,000 members making it the largest Woman’s Organisation in the UK. In 1919 after the war the first badge was produced with the words “For Home and Country”.



Mrs Adelaid Hoodless

In 2014 we were able to research the History of WI Badges. Mary Tomsett with the help of the National WI Archivist Ann Stamper along with the original badge makers were able to find the first WI Members badge.

​There have been several variations on the badge over the years and the most recent shows the slogan “The WI Inspiring Women”.
Mrs Alfred Watt
1919 WI Members Badge
Badge Maker Fattorini & Sons Advertising Material

The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI)

​The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) was formed in 1917. The Values and Objects were based on the ideals of fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice, with its roots in rural and agricultural communities.

In 2013 this is being changed to include women in all areas of the UK and not just in country areas. The membership age will be from 18 years except in the Isle of Man where it will remain at the age for voting, which is 16 years.

Each year the Annual Meeting of the NFWI is held in different venues around England and Wales, the most popular being at the Albert Hall in London. The year’s events and the future are discussed at the meeting and well known personalities are invited to speak. Every WI is represented by a Delegate who votes on the new Resolution for that year. A great deal has been achieved over the years by members supporting many Resolutions such as Farm Gate Prices, Breast Screening Clinics; Food Labelling; the Plight of the Bumble Bee; Keeping Libraries open, and More Midwives. To be at the Albert Hall with 5,000 other members all singing “Jerusalem” is a mind blowing experience. Members then all walk across the busy road to picnic and in the park, make new friends and compare how different WIs are run.

On 1 June 2013 the AGM was held in Cardiff International Arena and no prizes for guessing how good the singing was there!
As part of the annual subscription each member receives through the post a quality colour magazine called “ WI Life” which shows the activities of the diverse membership. New WIs are opening in towns, cities and universities, meeting in pubs and cafes, corresponding via the internet but the members are also anxious to learn home economic skills. The WI is in safe hands.

Contact details :


104 New Kings Road

Tel: 020 7371 9300
Fax: 020 7371 9300
Email: hq@nfwi.org.uk
Web: thewi.org.uk

The East Sussex Federation (ESFWI)

The East Sussex Federation broke away from the Sussex Federation on 5 December 1919 and there were 77 Institutes in the new Federation.

Today there are around 100 across the County and 3,500 members. Every month the ESFWI organises a wonderful calendar of events open to all members. Everything is educational but also social and great fun. Last year there was cookery, horticulture, craft, croquet, golf, painting, Buckingham Palace Garden Party to celebrate the WI centenary to mention just a few. Each WI is notified of all the events and members also receive a colourful magazine most months called WI News.

Each year a lovely East Sussex calendar is produced. Afterwards the pictures can be used as postcards and a recipe is included each month. Most years Wannock Downs members provide some of the photographs and recipes for the calendar. 2020 was the last edition of the calendar.

The 2019 Annual Meeting was held at the newly refurbished Congress Theatre, Eastbourne on Wednesday 18th September. The speakers were Trisha Stewart one of the original Calendar Girls, telling us about The Calendar Girls 20 years on and Lynne Stubbings, Chair of the NFWI.

There was a Federation trip to Denman College in Oxfordshire in 2019 too , which was very popular. The courses selected suited most tastes and the camaraderie was second to none.

The official WI charity is The Associated Country Women Of The World ACWW and as usual there will be a stand and collection at the ESFWI Annual Meeting

Contact details

Falcon Way,
BN27 1HY.

(Open Tues – Thurs 9.30am – 4pm)
Please phone before visiting.

Tel: 01323 442592

Email: hq@esfwi.org.uk

Website: www.east-sussex.thewi.org.uk

WI Denman College Oxon

Denman College was the NFWI’S fabulous, residential, adult education centre at Marcham in Oxfordshire.

The original Georgian building was opened in 1948 and named after Lady Denman. The college offered more than 500 residential/day courses on almost any subject one would like mention.

Men as well as ladies could attend and stay in the attractive en-suite rooms each of which represents a Federation by its decor. There was a purpose built teaching centre including an IT suite, specially equipped workshops and cookery school.

There were 70 en-suite bedrooms some in the main building and others in purpose built cottages in the grounds, dining room, shop and licensed bar all surrounded by beautiful gardens. It was open to non WI members.

Due to its considerable upkeep the College has sadly been sold.


Members leave Denman College

Lady Denman 1923

Denman College




OX13 6NW