|Edith Jones' diary
As this is my first blog for the History Girls I thought I would kick off with the WI. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Women's Institute of England and Wales. Scotland has its own Scottish Rural WI. Born in Llanfairpwll on Anglesey in 1915, it was founded in part to help with food production during the First World War. However, its main aim was, and remains, to educate its membership. The full story of the WI is told in a new book Women's Century: an illustrated history of the Women's Institute by Val Horsler and Ian Denning.
It is a handsome publication that fulfills its promise by charting the 100 years in a gallery of mainly black and white images. Some are hilarious but the majority tell a tale of versatility, determination and good humour. The authors thread the story neatly through the book, focusing on the WI's key activities: education, campaigning and public affairs.
|Wartime WI meeting
|Dame Frances Farrer
Gen. Sec of WI 1929-59
When I was writing Jambusters my biggest problem was too much information. The WI archives at national, county and village level offer minute and fascinating detail about anything and everything they have ever been involved in. But it is all impersonal, in the form of minutes, records and letters. Occasionally there is a hint of fury in Miss Farrer's letters to the Ministry of Mines about petrol rationing but by and large it is factual detail. Yet the WI is an organisation full of personalities and I needed to get into someone's head. This is where Edith Jones' diaries came in. She was WI to the core and embraced the organisation from the moment it started in her remote village on the English/Welsh border in 1931.
|Christine Downes with her
great-aunt Edith's diaries
She was a tenant farmer's wife and had little opportunity to broaden her horizons or go beyond the market town of Shrewsbury until the WI arrived. This gave her the chance to travel - she went to London in 1938 to attend the National Federation's AGM - and to meet women from other WIs in Shropshire. She recorded her everyday life in brief but delicious detail in diaries given to her by the Electricity Supply Company. That was an irony: Red House Farm, where she lived, did not get electricity until 12 years after Edith retired and moved away. Some of the juxtapositions are delightful. In September 1943 she wrote: 'Italy surrenders. I put new flower in hat.' On another occasion her puppy had fleas. On that day, 20 July 1944, she recorded the following: 'Hitler's life threatened by bomb. Puppy is very lousy, so Margaret is sorry for him & gives him a sound bathing and dressing.' How extraordinary that she heard about the failed Stauffenberg plot on the day it happened.
|Edith Jones with Leonard 1937