Music Speech Drama Dance

Administrative / Biographical History

Singing and drama seem to have been frequent activities in many early local Women's Institutes, with a number of choirs being formed, competitions being entered and catalogues of performable plays being distributed widely in this period. However, this area was not formally organised at the national level until the Music Subcommittee was established in 1923. Its general aims were to provide speakers to county federations, training for village conductors and recommending songs and songbooks. A Drama Subcommittee was appointed in Jun 1925, liasing with the British Drama League and the Village Drama Society. The Drama and Music committees then began a series of amalgamations, the first being in 1926 with dance included in their terms of reference due to a rise in interest in folk dancing around this time. They were active in assisting with and arranging festivals and pageants involving members and received a grant to further their work in 1928. The Drama subcommittee split from Music and Dancing Subcommittee, in 1934, the former dealing with issues of copyright, and the latter with the licensing of village halls.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Subcommittees liased closely with the Carnegie Trust which was a major funder to musical and artistic projects in rural areas during this period. The first Combined Arts Festival was held in 1946 and a relationship with Vaughan Williams was also forged in the post war period when he undertook the arrangement of 'Folk Songs of the Four Seasons' (1950). In 1949, the Subcommittee was split into two: a Drama and Films Subcommittee was established to deal with these areas and in particular to examine the influence of cinema on the young and society at large; and a Music and Dancing Subcommittee, which was principally preoccupied with the organisation of a National Singing Festival (for which Ad-hoc Subcommittees were established). In 1951, the Drama and Film Subcommittee was responsible for the creation of the National Federation Women's Institute (NFWI) Drama Advisory Panel charged with giving schools on the subject in all its aspects. A Panel of Music Advisors was attached the Music and Dancing the following year. The two committees were amalgamated once again in 1957 as the Music and Drama Subcommittee, the same year that the drama festival 'Out of This Wood' took place. The first National Art Exhibition, entitled 'Painting for Pleasure' took place at the galleries of the Federation of British Artists in 1963. Another major project was the performance in 1969, of 'The Brilliant and the Dark', which was composed for the NFWI by Malcolm Williamson to a libretto written by Ursula Vaughan Williams.

Related Material

An album of photographs taken at local WI pageants in the 1920s is also held in the NFWI collection.