Cambridge Federation of Women's Institutes (formerly the Cambridgeshire Federation of Women's Institutes) and constituent WI branches

Scope and Content

Federation records consist primarily of meeting minutes, annual reports and institutional publications. A small number of Group records survive, primarily meeting minutes of constituent branches. WI branches generate relatively consistent records including committee minute books, record books (of general branch meetings), annual returns to the Federation, membership books and branch yearbooks.

Administrative / Biographical History

Development of the Women's Institute movement

The WI was the brainchild of Canadian education reformer Adelaide Hoodless who founded the movement at Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1897. Hoodless was a keen advocate of education in childcare and home economics. Her enthusiasm struck a chord with Canadian women and within ten years over five hundred branches WI had been established.

The Women's Institute (WI) in Britain (now the National Federation of Women's Institutes of England, Wales, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man) was established in 1915 in Anglesey, Wales. The primary aims of the British WI were to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in food production during the First World War. By the end of 1916 there were over forty branches operating across Britain. This number subsequently rose to 137 by the end of 1917, 199 by the end of 1918 and 1,405 by the end of 1919. During these formative years Government proved an enthusiastic supporter of the WI.

After the First World War the WI was a strong advocate for improvements in public health, sanitation, education and the reduction of poverty. During the Second World War the WI again played a major role is supporting the domestic food supply. While many branches were suspended during the war those that continued made a major contribution to the home front by preserving over 5,300 tons of fruit and preventing twelve million pounds of fruit from going to waste.

In 1948 the WI opened a national training centre, Denman College, named after the former Chair, Lady Denman. By 1949 the total number of branches had risen to 7,281. The WI was influential in the formation of the Keep Britain Tidy Group in 1955. Many senior WI officials served concurrently in the Group over the years. In 1965 the WI revoked its earlier decision to only allow new WI's to be formed in areas with a population above four thousand. This led to the formation of many new branches in smaller rural communities. In 1977 the number of WI branches peaked at nearly ten thousand.

The Queen was a longstanding member of the WI and played an active role in WI occasions including celebrations marking the opening of new wings at Denman College, WI Life and Leisure Exhibition in Olympia in 1984 and the 75th anniversary of the WI in 1990.

The WI continues to play a major role in British communities across the country. WI members are involved in a variety of activities ranging from the preservation, cooking and preparation of food to flower arranging and gardening, arts and crafts, music, sport and technology. Local and national competitions bring diverse WI branches together in common interest.

Structure of the Women's Institute

The National Federation of Women's Institutes (NWFI) represents the Wl movement nationally. It co-ordinates and provides a focus for the activities of the movement as a whole in order to promote unity of purpose. The Wl movement consists of approximately 6,500 local Wls (as of 2014) representing a membership of some 212,000 women. The NWFI is headquartered in London with a satellite office located in Cardiff.

Each local Wl branch is affiliated to one of nearly seventy county or island federations. The federations represent members' views at the National Council which meets at least annually, providing a forum for shaping policy and strategy and determining campaign stances. Each Wl is represented at the NFWI's Annual Meeting, providing a further channel of communication.

The NFWI determines the overall constitutional structure for the Wl movement including the governing documents for Wls and county federations as well as its own.

The formal aims of the WI are: (a) to advance the education of women and girls for the public benefit in all areas including (without limitation): local, national and international issues of political and social importance; music, drama and other cultural subjects; and all branches of agriculture, crafts, home economics, science, health and social welfare; (b) to promote sustainable development for the public benefit by: educating people in the preservation, conservation and protection of the environment and the prudent use of natural resources; and promoting sustainable means of achieving economic growth and regeneration; (c) to advance health for the public benefit; and (d) to advance citizenship for the public benefit by the promotion of civic responsibility and volunteering.

The Women's Institute organisation is based on the ideals of fellowship, truth, tolerance and justice. With its original roots in rural and agricultural communities, it now embraces the interests of women in both rural and urban communities. All women who are interested in the values and purposes of the Women's Institute organisation may join, no matter what their views on religion or politics may be. The organisation is non-sectarian and non-party political. This does not prevent WIs from concerning themselves with matters of political and religious significance, provided the views and rights of minorities are respected and provided the organisation is never used for party-political or sectarian purposes. WIs are charitable and everything they do must be consistent with that special legal status.

The WI is a registered charity and an incorporated charitable company limited by guarantee. It is funded in part by member subscriptions and in part by a subsidiary fund raising company, WI Enterprises. Scottish Women's Institutes administers WI branches in Scotland while the Northern Ireland Federation of Women's Institutes administers WI branches in Northern Ireland.

The Cambridge Federation: founding and development

The Cambridge Federation of Women's Institutes (originally titled the Cambridgeshire Federation of Women's Institutes) was established in 01 November 1919 four years after the first WI branch was created in Britain and a year after the first nine Cambridgeshire WI branches were established at Babraham, Croxton, Eltisley, Knapwell, Linton, Bottisham, Lode, Bourn and Waterbeach. Mrs Jenyns was elected as the Federation's first president.

The county office was initially based at St Edwards Passage at Girton College. For a short time this office also housed a Federation shop. During the 1920s and 1930s the Federation worked closely with Cambridgeshire County Council, particularly the Education Department, to improve traning and educational opportunities for women. The Federation also contributed to the governance of the County's Maternity and Child Welfare Sub-committee.

The Federation forged many external and allied contacts for the benefit of its members. These included the Drama League, International Arbitration League, the Guild of Learners and the Guild of Fruit Preservation. Branch WI's contributed to many exhibitions of crafts and produce at competitions organised, or supported by, the Federation. These included The First National Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1922 and annual Cambridgeshire County Council agricultral and horticultural shows. By 1939 the Cambridgeshire Federation counted seventy WI branches.

While some WI branches were suspended during the Second World War (eight in the Cambridgeshire Federation) those that continued to function focused their efforts on food production just as the WI had done during the Great War. The canning of fruit figured prominently with over 1,700 tons produced in the county during 1941 alone. These efforts continued into the postwar period under the guide of Operation Produce. The Produce Guild organised large scale co-operative purchasing of produce, particularly seed potatoes, to maximise the domestic crop production of its members. Over forty tons of potatoes were purchased and dispersed in a single year. WI membership in Cambridgeshire during the war remained considerable with 3,349 members in 1939 falling to 2,479 by 1945.

With the end of the war membership in the WI together with the number of branches increased. With the support of the County Council education and transport opportunites improved and allowed members from many geographically dispered WIs to meet and establish better social links across the region. The year 1958 saw the Federation organise a highly successful village history competition. Twenty-nine branches took part creating histories and four winners were chosen with difficulty from the many high quality submissions. In 1959 Cambridgeshire won the Denman Cup at the National Dairy Show held at Olympia. By the end of the 1960s the number of branches in the Federation had risen to ninety-five.

During the latter part of the 20th century the number of WIs in the Federation fluctuated. Smaller rural villages often found it difficult to continue given a limited membership and a reluctance by members to become branch officers. Some branches suspended only to open later when local conditions appeared more favourable. Others elected to merge with neighbouring branches in order to continue their work. As of 2015 the Federation counts sixty-eight WI branches including two in Cambridge.

Federation organisation and objectives The Cambridge Federation acts as an umbrella organisation for all the WI branches in its region, providing advice, administration and support. The geographical area administered by the Cambridge Federation generally accords to the old boundaries of Cambridgeshire County Council prior to its merger with the Isle of Ely in 1965.

The formal objects of the Cambridge Federation are to: (a) improve and develop conditions of rural life in and to advance the education of countrywomen in citizenship, in public questions both national and international, in music, drama etc.; (b) secure training in all branches of agriculture, handicrafts, home economics, health and social welfare; (c) give all countrywomen the opportunity of working together, through the Women's Institutes organisation, and of putting into practice these ideas for which it stands.

The Federation consists of a series of committees and sub-committees that help to organise events and activities for members of its constituent branches. At the head of these is the Executive Committee (known historically as the 'county committee'). Sub-committees of various functions and titles have been established to administer/advise on finance, home economics, craft, leisure and sport. By 1923 the Federation operated committees/sub-committees for finance, organisation, homecrafts, agriculture and horticulture and information. Music and drama committees appeared later with the information committee subsequently being renamed 'public questions' and 'international'. In addition to operating committees the Federation also retains branch annual accounts and reports and publishes its own newsletter (with programme of events) and annual report.

The committee structure of the Cambridge Federation as of 2015 is as follows:

The Board of Trustees The Board of Trustees is made up of the Trustees of the Federation. The committee approves all recommendations that come from the other sub-committees and is responsible for the final decision on all matters of finance, health and safety and general policy according to the Charity Commission and our own Constitution. The committee also includes the Denman College Ambassador who is responsible for liaising with members wishing to take up courses at the college and keeping members up-to-date with all aspects of the college and encouraging members to attend. The Denman College Ambassador is also responsible for the upkeep of the Cambridge room at the college.

Public Affairs Committee This committee organises the Resolutions meetings and arranges the specialised speakers. It also follows up the mandates when passed at the Annual General Meeting of the National Federation. The committee keeps the various campaigns to the fore by writing to Members of Parliament, local councillors and relevant decision makers about the mandated concern. At the same time it makes members aware of how they can each play a part in any campaign, beginning in their own communities.

The committee arranges International Events so that more of the culture of the chosen country may be learned by WI members. Each year it selects a project for the Federation to sponsor through the Association of Country Women of the World Coins for Friendship scheme. Its purpose is to enhance the lives of women through education and practical help.

Leisure Committee The Leisure Committee aims to provide a programme of pleasurable pursuits and to extend members activities by giving them taster days in many fields of sport. These include clay pigeon shooting, target practice, archery, fencing, scuba diving, gliding, golf, 10-pin bowling and many more. Visits are also made to places of interest including nature reserves, raptor centres and the committee is responsible for the annual darts tournament within the WI's of the federation.

Membership & Marketing Committee This committee consists of the WI Advisers and assistants. A WI Adviser is a WI member who has undertaken special training and will have learned about many different sorts of WIs. They are available to any WI who has problems or who want to know about the wider aspects, structure and opportunities for member in the WI organisation.

Events Committee This committee covers a wide range of fund raising activities including weekend breaks and a series of lunches throughout the year at which speakers are invited to attend. The committee also organises many trips to places of interest both in London and the surrounding area that does not fall into the remit of the other specific sub-committees.

The committee comprises of the officers of the Federation, the Merchandise Officer and other interested members some of whom are also on the Board of Trustees.

Cookery and Craft Committee This committee encourages educational skills in a wide variety of subjects and day schools are arranged to cover many forms of crafts and cookery and visits to places of interest including craft exhibitions.

Combined Arts Sub Committee This committee has a varied remit and includes art, photography, drama and music. Many members of the committee are also members of the Federation Players who perform plays and entertain WI's with evenings of miscellaneous poems, prose and song. Each year a Christmas Words & Music is put together by the committee with the help of WI's in the federation.

Days out to historic houses and the theatre are very popular and on winter evenings a poetry and prose or music appreciated sessions are held.

Finance Advisory Panel This panel covers all aspects of finance for the Federation. It comprises of the Treasurer, the Chairman of the Events Committee and other members whose special interest is in money matters.

The Federation budget is agreed by the panel before submission to the Board of Trustees and comparisons of actual and budget figures are considered at the bimonthly meetings. The upkeep and maintenance of the building as recommended by the Office Management Committee is within the committee's remit.

The Federation's officers, committee members and staff work together to improve the educational, social and cultural opportunities for local WI branches and their members. This involves organising all manner of events from day schools to flower arranging competitions, sharing recipes to swimming. The Federation provides a central hub for Cambridge branches to exchange information and to keep abreast of WI news beyond their locality. It also pools the financial resources of local WIs in order to hold major events beyond the means of individual branches.

The Cambridge Federation is a charitable company limited by guarantee, incorporated on 26 June 2003 and registered as a charity on 18 September 2003. The company was established under a Memorandum of Association and is governed under its Articles of Association.


This collection is arranged as follows:

  • KCWI/1 - Federation records

  • KCWI/1/1 - Minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/1 - Executive Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/2 - Council minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/3 - Finance Sub-Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/4 - Organisation Sub-Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/5 - Community and International Affairs Sub-Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/6 - Home Economics and Specialised Craft Sub-Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/7 - Home Economics and Specialised Craft Representatives Sub-Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/8 - Combined Arts Sub-Committee minutes
  • KCWI/1/1/9 - Leisure and Sport Sub-Committee minutes

  • KCWI/1/2 - Finance

  • KCWI/1/3 - Publications and events
  • KCWI/1/3/1 - Annual reports
  • KCWI/1/3/2 - Yearbooks
  • KCWI/1/3/3 - Newsletters
  • KCWI/1/3/4 - Events and other publications

  • KCWI/2 - Group records
  • KCWI/2/1 - Barton Women's Institute Group
  • KCWI/2/2 - Milton Women's Institute Group and predecessors
  • KCWI/2/3 - Over, Swavesey and Willingham Women's Institute Group
  • KCWI/2/4 - Over, Swavesey, Willingham, Longstanton and Fen Drayton Women's Institute Group

  • KCWI/3 - Branch records
  • KCWI/3/1 - Abington Pigotts Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/2 - Arrington and District Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/3 - Ashley Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/4 - Babraham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/5 - Balsham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/6 - Bar Hill Women's Institute (1968-1973)
  • KCWI/3/7 - Bar Hill Women's Institute (1984-1998)
  • KCWI/3/8 - Barrington Women's Institute (1921-1973)
  • KCWI/3/9 - Barrington Women's Institute (1977-)
  • KCWI/3/10 - Barton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/11 - Bourn Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/12 - Boxworth Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/13 - Brinkley Women's Institute (1933-1959)
  • KCWI/3/14 - Brinkley Women's Institute (1969-1974)
  • KCWI/3/15 - Burwell Phoenix Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/16 - Cambridge Centre Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/17 - Castle Camps Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/18 - Caxton Women's Institute (1927-1982)
  • KCWI/3/19 - Caxton Women's Institute (2010-2011)
  • KCWI/3/20 - Cherry Hinton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/21 - Crowlands Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/22 - Dullingham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/23 - Duxford Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/24 - The Eversdens Women's Institute (1926-1974)
  • KCWI/3/25 - The Eversdens Women's Institute (1991-1993)
  • KCWI/3/26 - Fen Ditton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/27 - Fen Drayton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/28 - Fowlmere Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/29 - Fulbourn Hospital Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/30 - Grantchester Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/31 - Graveley Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/32 - Great Shelford Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/33 - Guilden and Steeple Morden Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/34 - Harlton Women's Institute (1949-1976)
  • KCWI/3/35 - Harlton Women's Institute (1981-1982)
  • KCWI/3/36 - The Hatleys Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/37 - Hildersham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/38 - Histon and Impington Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/39 - Horningsea Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/40 - Horningsea and Clayhithe Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/41 - Ickleton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/42 - Kingston Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/43 - Kirtling Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/44 - Linton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/45 - Litlington Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/46 - Litlington and Abington Pigotts Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/47 - Little Shelford Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/48 - Lolworth Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/49 - Longstanton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/50 - Longstowe Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/51 - Madlingley Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/52 - Melbourn Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/53 - Melbourn Moor Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/54 - Milton Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/55 - Newnham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/56 - Oakington Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/57 - Radfield Hundred Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/58 - Romsey Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/59 - Shepreth Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/60 - Six Mile Bottom Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/61 - Snailwell Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/62 - Soham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/63 - Steeple Morden Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/64 - Swaffham Bulbeck Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/65 - Swavesey Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/66 - Teversham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/67 - Toft Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/68 - West Wickham Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/69 - West Wratting Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/70 - Westley Waterless Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/71 - Weston Colville Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/72 - Whaddon Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/73 - Whittlesford Women's Institute
  • KCWI/3/74 - The Wilbrahams Women's Institute

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Related Material

Other Cambridgeshire Archives collections relating to WIs:

  • K245 - Abington Women's Institute scrapbooks, 1958-1965
  • K272 - Barton Women's Institute scrapbooks, 1958-1977
  • K290 - Papworth Women's Institute, village history of Papworth Everard, 1949-1958
  • K516/2/5 - Lady Florence Walston papers relating to the Newton WI, 1919-1939
  • K799 - Great Shelford Women's Institute, yearbook and newspaper cuttings, 1909-1939
  • K979 - Madingley Women's Institute, village history of Madingley, 1957
  • KP139/28/35 - 'Cambridgeshire: A Chronicle of Country Women 1918 - 1968', by H. Wilfrida Leakey, 1968