The Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War. Since then the organisation’s aims have broadened and the WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK. The WI will celebrate its centenary in 2015 and currently has 212,000 members in over 6,300 WIs.

The WI plays a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills, to take part in a wide variety of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities.

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The WI archives contain a brief history of the WI movement from its origins in Canada in 1897 and the first WIs in Britain in 1915, up to the present day. See more at:

The material is presented as a time line. After a short piece about the origins of the movement, the time line has been divided into decades. At the beginning of each decade there is a brief summary of events, setting the scene and giving the context to what was happening in the WI during those years. For each year there are headlines for the main events. For many of these events, or people, further information is provided on a linked page, just click on the section underlined.

If you you have an archive query or would like further information about the history of the WI, please get in touch with the Communications Department using the contact form here.


The records of many individual WIs and federations are deposited in their local County Record Offices, where they can also be accessed by the public, though it is usually wise to order them in advance.