General Education

Administrative / Biographical History

In the early days of the WIs it became accepted that: the lobbying work of the organisation could only be effectively carried out if countrywomen were properly instructed in the basics of local and national government; that families would be healthier if wives and mothers were taught how to produce clean, healthy food for themselves; and that their lives would be improved if they were made more aware of the history and the nature of their surroundings and countryside. Consequently, a meeting of the Consultative Council of the NFWI was held in Nov 1920, at which it was decided that an Education Subcommittee should be established to deal with this more strictly educational work of the movement and, in particular, to provide lecture material, draft syllabi and information on correspondence courses and summer schools to County Federations and WI members. Additionally, the NFWI was a member of the coordinating committee of the Adult Education Council and had links with the Workers' Education Association, both of whom frequently provided speakers for lunch programmes.

In 1923, the Education Committee was amalgamated with the Literature Subcommittee to form the Education, Literature and Publicity Subcommittee. This was followed, in 1926, by amalgamation with the Agricultural and Horticultural Subcommittee whose work was also deemed largely educational in nature. This resulted in the formation of a General Education Subcommittee. The subcommittee was now to be responsible for dealing with questions affecting the education of the Institutes in agriculture, horticulture, health and other aspects of education not directly dealt with by other subcommittees. The publishing function of the movement was, however, to be separated out under a new Printing subcommittee that was to be responsible for the technical side of creating and distributing NFWI publicity and the daily management of the literature department.

Because of the wideness of the new committee's remit, when any of the General Education Subcommittee's work required detailed investigation, it was necessary to elect a small temporary Subcommittee from its members to report back on specific issues. Issues that it worked on in this period included domestic science. In 1928, after the publication of the Denman Report on the practical education of women for rural life, it became active in assisting with submissions regarding education at all ages in the countryside. However, it was decided in late 1928 that the committee's scope was too wide and a separate Subcommittee to deal with agricultural, horticultural issues and arrangements for Royal Shows should be re-established and this was formed in 1929.

In 1933, the subcommittees' terms of reference were altered to deal with health as well as educational matters in addition to its public questions function, while losing its remit for domestic science.

1931: General Education and Public Questions: At this time, the Subcommittee continued to deal with issues raised at the Annual General Meeting of members such as land settlement, domestic economy, maternal welfare and Family Maintenance. At the beginning of 1932, the functions of the committee were divided and a separate committee formed to deal with Health and Domestic Science in May 1932. A Nutrition Subcommittee, which reported back in 1936, carried out some of the work for the Health & Domestic Science Committee. It continued to deal with public issues of interest to members, but in 1936 it was decided to establish a Sub-Subcommittee to report back to the Education group on Public Questions and assist Voluntary County Organisers (VCOs). In 1938 it was renamed General Education, although its functions remained the same. In 1940, the function of Public Questions was devolved to a new separate Subcommittee for one year that undertook questionnaire research into the Government's evacuation scheme. This information was then collated and disseminated to various bodies, in particular the Women's Group on Public Welfare, which it continued when the two subcommittees re-merged in 1941 also collaborated closely with that year in this area. During the war, the Subcommittee members were closely included with work aimed at the reconstruction period. This included water and sewage surveys and housing provision investigations. An NFWI conference on Education was held in London the day after the 1945 Annual General Meeting where the creation of a college was moved and passed by members. There, the future role and means of teaching within the movement was officially formulated. An Ad Hoc College Committee was established, chaired by Lady Brunner and including Sir Richard Livingstone. It was decided that a residential college with facilities for teaching in the areas of handicrafts, cookery, music and drama, agriculture and general educational subjects. Marcham Park, which had belonged to the RAF during the War, was purchased and renamed Denman College, after Lady Denman who stood down as National Chairman in 1946.

In the immediate post-war period, members of the Education & Public Questions Group, as well as giving advice on health insurance for married women, represented the NFWI on the Rural Housing Subcommittee of the Ministry of Health. However, the function of public questions was again split off from that of education with the formation of the Public Questions Subcommittee in 1949. Initially, the Denman College Subcommittee was responsible for the fabric of the building while the General Education Subcommittee planned the syllabus in relation to the other education services provided by Headquarters through the work of a syllabus group. In 1957, the Denman College Subcommittee took over responsibility for both aspects of the college. That same year, the General Education and the Public Questions subcommittees were merged under the title of the Education & Public Questions Subcommittee.