The Women's Institute (WI): History

​The Women’s Institute or “WI” as it is affectionately known was born across the Atlantic in a small town called Stoney Creek in Ontario Canada, where In 1897 Mrs Adelaid Hoodless started a social and educational movement for women.

In 1913 Mrs Alfred Watt, who had worked at WI Headquarters in Canada, came to live in London and tried without success to start WIs in the South of England.

In 1914 the First World War started and as food production was vital, the Agricultural Organisation Society was set up to advise the Government.

In June 1915 Mrs Watt was invited to Bangor University to address the Society. There she met Col J Stapleton Cotton who lived in Llanfairpwil, Anglesey where he worked tirelessly to benefit the local community. He invited a group of local ladies to meet Mrs Watt and consider starting a WI.

On 16 September 1915 the WI was officially founded in Llanfairpwil and six months later there were more than 100 Institutes. There are now 6,600 WIs and 210,000 members making it the largest Woman’s Organisation in the UK. In 1919 after the war the first badge was produced with the words “For Home and Country".

There have been several variations on the badge over the years and the most recent shows the slogan “The WI Inspiring Women”.

Mrs Adelaid Hoodless

Mrs Alfred Watt

The current WI Members badge

Mrs Adelaid Hoodless


In 2014 I was able to research the history of WI badges. With the help of the national archivist Ann Stamper and the original badge makers. We were able to determine the first WI members badge. Mary Tomsett