A photograph appeared a few years ago in our Cornwall Federation’s annual Calendar. It is of the Truro Women’s Institute’s Committee Members. They sit there, upright, in their dark costumes and serious hats, and look at us from their world, torn apart by the grief, mud and ashes of the recent War. There are sixteen women here, ten married, and six are single. Their gaze is steady in their determination to make something positive to hold on to, to educate, to encourage friendship and to make a difference in the devastated world around them.
What courage and determination was theirs, and in all those Cornish WIs founded in the early years.
And so in 1919, it was decided to form a Cornish Federation, linking these early WIs, co-ordinating and supporting them. The Federation oversees the running of each WI, according to the national principles of aiming to educate and develop a strong and united movement.
Our Cornish Federation provides advice and courses for many different interests. The Federation is proud to have built its own headquarters on the latest building principles.
Look into the archives of your own WI. They will tell you so much about their hard work and successes — village dances and whist drives in the 40’s; the lobbying of local councils and Parliament on all kinds of practical issues; the demonstrations and talks — cookery and craft, dance and movement.
Go into the WI Marquee at the Royal Cornwall Show, buzzy with members viewing the competitions, cups of tea with old friends, watching craft demos. The sound levels are not for the faint hearted. The Show encapsulates our shared enjoyment of living and meeting each month, whether in harbour villages or on the high moors, in our small towns or in our country villages, in our clean and sea washed air.
Above all there is the wider WI, the National Federation, built on the ideals of fellowship and tolerance, truth and justice; lobbying Parliament, working in practical ways to realise our goals.
And now, one hundred years after that early photograph was taken, we can look back with pride and joy at the astonishing development of our WI movement in Cornwall, as it flourishes today. This is the last century’s gift to us. It is up to each one of us to take this splendid achievement forward, into the next one hundred years.