A Glance at Women’s Institutes in Earlier years

Among the many newspaper clippings I have located through my time as Provincial Historian, I have two or more which cite some of Women’s Institute happenings just after World War 2. With the war over, the members turned their thoughts to more traditional subjects, and certainly craft work and the preservation of heritage activities, including weaving and embroidery were in sharp focus.

One begins: “Delegates from every part of British Columbia gathered at the Hotel Vancouver in Vancouver, for the recent 8th Biennial Women’s Institute Convention.” The Dowager Marchioness of Reading, England told “stories of pathos intermingled with humour about Britain’s darkest days”. She said it was getting the job done, that mattered, not who did it. There are no “I’s”, only “we”. Lady Reading spoke of a woman who was buried for 105 hours who sang hymns while her rescuers worked.

Another cites the  guest speaker at the Founder’s Day celebration of the Shawnigan Lake Women’s Institute – it was Madge Watt! She spoke on the subject of “Strands in a Great Tapestry” and dealt with Institute work and that of the Associated Country Women of the World in many countries. Another guest that day was Lady Sweetenham who provided an interesting display of  traditional embroidery.

Greetings were sent to Newfoundland, welcoming them as the 10th province in Canada. There was much discussion about the upcoming Associated Country Women of the World Conference planned for Copenhagen, Denmark in 1950. Those members planning trips abroad in 1950 were urged to include this event in their plans and to take part in this conference, the first since the passing of former World President Madge Watt.

My point in writing about these newspaper clippings is that this is a resource for historians of the future. But one that in many ways is lacking today. With the print media reluctant to print information on the monthly activities of groups such as ours,  we can only get coverage on special events or occasions. Please continue to have those submitted! But also, please remember to preserve them in your branch or district scrap/history books. Our BCWI Network News prints what we have sent in, but there is much more that is happening, and may not appear in the News.

Among these news clippings I have found items that apply to other areas of Canada, and have emailed and asked if the other areas of Canadian WI are interested in having them, or perhaps photo copies of them. I sent some off to a lady in Manitoba who asked about the FWIC clippings. With the centennial year of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada coming up in 2019 they may find something of interest in them. I hope so!

My focus now, as Provincial Historian, is on the happenings and records of the Institute in past years. I do not wish to deter any member from focusing on the present – for what is happening now adds to our history, and shows how the focus is changing, proves Women’s Institutes are still vigorous and benefiting our communities and province.

So, keep up the good work and keep adding to our history!

For Home and Country,

Ruth Fenner, Provincial Historian, BC Women’s Institute


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