Oxfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes

A brief History of the WI and the Oxfordshire Federation

The WI was first formed in 1897 in  Stoney Creek, Ontario in Canada. Further details on this can be seen at http://www.thewi.org.uk/about-the-wi/history-of-the-wi/the-origins .

The Women's Institute Movement in Britain started in 1915 with the first WI formed in Llanfair PG, Wales.  During the First World War the WI was formed to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food to help to increase the supply of food to the war-torn nation.

The first WI in Oxfordshire was Kelmscott WI formed in 1916 (since closed in 1992). The oldest WIs currently still flourishing in Oxfordshire, and formed in 1918, are Steeple Aston WI, Clanfield WI, Wolvercote WI, Milton-under-Wychwood WI, Cassington WI and Burford & Fulbrook WI. The Federation was formed in 1919. 

There have been some well known names heading up the Oxfordshire Federation over the years. From 1923-1925 Mrs John Buchan, wife of the author John Buchan, was the President of the Federation while Miss Ashhurst (pictured) was the Chairman. Glady Ashhurst was the daughter of the Squire of Waterstock, near Waterperry, and when he died in 1929, she followed him as the owner of the estate and continued living in Waterstock House. In 1924 she founded Waterstock & Waterperry WI which eventually became the Waterstock & Tiddington WI of today. In 1948 Glashys Ashhurst made the decision to leave Waterstock House and to hand over the running of the estate to her nephew and she moved to one of the cottages in the village. A year later, after she died the cottages were sold off.

In Oxford High Street stands the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in which there is a plaque to Grace Hadow. Miss Hadow was Chairman of OFWI from 1931-32 and President from 1938-39.  She had attended Oxford University in the days before women were allowed to graduate and became Principal of the Society of Oxford Home Students out of which grew St Anne's College and eventually Vice Chairman of NFWI to Lady Denman, when she was the first Chairman from 1917 to 1946. 

Denman College, the national WI College, and named after the first Chairman, was purchased in 1947 and officially opened in 1948. Pictured, above, at the microphone for this ceremony is Sir Richard Livingstone and, seated far right, is Lady Brunner. Both of whom were highly instrumental in turning the idea of a National WI College into a reality. Lady Brunner was a member of Greys WI near Henley and rose quickly, via OFWI Chairmanship, to become the third Chairman of the NFWI. 

This colour photo is from the Greys WI scrapbook and shows Lady Brunner in 2000, cutting the 80th anniversary cake for her WI, of which she remained a loyal member serving as President and Secretary during her time there. She lived in Rotherfield Greys at Greys Court, (a house which she and her husband gave to the National Trust while still living there) until her death in 2003 at the age of 98.