Posted in Personal life

WI Fidelity – Why I’ve Joined the Women’s Institute

A post about that force to be reckoned with, the Women’s Institute, which I’ve recently joined. This post was commissioned by the Tetbury Advertiser, for which I write a monthly column.

WI logo
WI, 21st century style

As we approach the middle of 2014, I’ve been taking stock of my New Year’s Resolutions, one of which was to join the WI (Women’s Institute). I’d been mulling it over for years. I knew a lot of ladies who belonged, but few were in my immediate social group.

Until this year, the closest I’d got to joining was to buy an old WI brooch. I collect vintage enamel badges, and this one was a beauty – green, red and gold, bearing the organisation’s original motto: “For Home and Country”. This motto dates back to the year in which the WI was founded, 1915. In wartime conditions, and before women gained the right to vote, any British woman would surely have worn this badge with pride.

Nearly 100 years on, the WI has switched focus. Its current motto “Inspiring Women” is a great line, implying that its membership includes inspiring women, as well as working to inspire women.

A Modern Organisation

Until I joined, I didn’t realise just how active and pro-active the WI has become. It’s too easy to dismiss its worth with the easy, jokey shorthand of “Jam and Jerusalem”, as my own experience demonstrates.

A few Christmases ago, I was all set to add “join WI” to my resolution list when through the letterbox came a neat little folded card, efficiently announcing the dates for the new year’s meetings. Neatly printed on the back were the words for the hymn Jerusalem. Much as I love the hymn, which we sung with gusto at every hymn practice in my primary school days, I allowed that resolution to fall off my list, unfulfilled.

Don’t Mention the Jam

Old fashioned WI badge
The original slogan, nearly 100 years ago

But this year, I set aside my prejudice and joined. I knew that my author friend Sandy Osborne was coming from her home city of Bath to talk to our local group about her Bath-based novel Girl Cop (enjoyable by both men and women, I hasten to add). While visitors are allowed to attend any WI meeting without being obliged to join, I welcomed this prompt to make me sign on the dotted line.

I’m so glad I did. Joining the WI has been an eye-opener. I encountered a feisty, intelligent crowd with wide-ranging interests, energies and passions, and a refreshing curiosity. Not only is there a new, interesting topic for discussion each meeting, often with an engaging speaker from beyond the community, but there are also heaps of other activities throughout the month, from book groups to film clubs to walking parties. If I belonged to no other social group, I could easily fill my diary with stimulating activities purely from the WI. What a great way to make like-minded friends in your neighbourhood.

There are also opportunities to join other WIs for activities and to contribute to national campaigns. Last meeting included a lively discussion about organ donor policy.

I’m proud to be a member of the modern WI, which is definitely a force to be reckoned with – and if you don’t believe me, just ask Tony Blair.

PS We’ve only sung Jerusalem once, and nobody’s yet mentioned jam.

Do you belong to a WI? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience of belonging.

Although I’d never belonged to the WI before, years ago I did spend some time singing with local WI choir – read more about that little escapade here, a post from a collection of memoirs of village life:


Author of warm, witty and gently funny fiction and non-fiction, including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, beginning with "Best Murder in Show", inspired by her life in an English Cotswold community, short stories and essays about country life. As Commissioning Editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors' Advice Centre, she writes guidebooks authors. She speaks at many literature festivals and writing events, and is part of BBC Radio Gloucestershire's monthly Book Club broadcast. She is founder and director of the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival which takes place in April, a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, and an ambassador for children's reading charity Read for Good and the Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF.

2 thoughts on “WI Fidelity – Why I’ve Joined the Women’s Institute

  1. This shows just how far behind I am with reading posts etc!! Anyway very interesting to read this. Our local WI group folded a few years ago actually. There was a rival ‘Women’s Group’ start in the village years before that as they felt they were a younger group of women who felt they didn’t want to be associated with the ‘older’ feel of the WI at the time. Sadly the members of the WI naturally passed on and the ‘younger’ ones of the Women’s Group are now older and no one is any further forward – if they’d just stuck with the WI at least it would still be going which is a bit sad. I believe I am going to be talking to this group about my book in the future so I can see what they get up to. I’ve never got round to joining either group.

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