This project has emerged from conversations with the Pershore WI who have been awarded HLF-funding to investigate ‘Pershore Women’s Institute: Food, Craft and Home Front activity during World War One’; and through collaboration with other women’s organisations in Worcestershire. It will build on the existing HLF-funded project by extending the research of one local WI to other Worcestershire WIs and voluntary groups in the area.
The Women’s Institute Movement was formed in 1915 by women’s suffrage campaigners with the support of the Board of Agriculture, to encourage rural women to produce, prepare and preserve food to alleviate wartime food shortages. It is one of the most significant legacies of WW1 for rural women. Many of its members also worked for the multiplicity of existing charities, or established new women’s organisations; some served as JPs or local councillors, or on administrative boards during the conflict. The project therefore explores the intersecting and overlapping networks of women who attempted to wield power during WW1 and its aftermath as women were first enfranchised.
Individual women’s lives, their families and connections, will be explored through organisational and regional archives, online resources, local newspapers, oral history interviews and archival research carried out for example, at the county archive, the Women’s Library and the Museum of English Rural Life. Many of these women voted for the first time in the 1918 elections, but there is little research exploring the role played by their wartime activities in enabling these often formidable women to exert power and influence.
This research explores the new spheres available to domestic women as a result of the growth of women’s organisations in WW1 and its aftermath. In so doing it will contribute to the on-going debates over the significance of WW1 as an agent of social change for women, from which domestic women have been largely excluded. The First World War led, temporarily at least, to shifts in the lives and expectations of women on the Home Front. Whilst there has been much attention given to women who worked during the conflict, the majority of women who remained in the domestic sphere, have received less attention, although they were far from idle.
The project therefore seeks to:
- develop upon the HLF-funded research into WW1 in the Vale being carried out by Pershore WI (the oldest WI branch in Worcestershire)
- support and liase with women’s organisations who have or will be exploring their history with HLF-funding including for example: Abberley WI, Naunton Beauchamp WI and Worcestershire Federation of Women’s Institutes
- collaborate with women’s organisations that will not be applying for HLF-funding including: SSAFA, Girlguiding Worcestershire and the Worcestershire Wives Fellowship
- collaborate with other HLF-funded projects in Worcestershire already uncovering the histories of Worcestershire women– eg Pershore Cemetery (Mrs Hooper), NT Croome (re Lady Deerhurst), and Worcestershire WW100.
Research discoveries will be shared through a mobile exhibition and short film via a number networks including the Women’s History Network (WHN), the WI and ACWW, published in scholarly and popular history publications and exhibited at museums and libraries in Worcester.