Rising from the ashes of the First World War, the Women's Institute went on to become one of the most important movements for women in the twentieth century. The institute was initially organised by ex-Suffragists, who felt that now women had the vote, they deserved an education that would give them the confidence they needed to make their presence felt in the new world opening up to them.
Initially conceived as a way of improving the food supply for the nation during the First World War, the Women's Institute again proved its worth when it responded to the national crisis at the outbreak of the Second World War, tackling food shortages and finding billets for evacuee children. New challenges came in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of the feminist movement. Membership of the WI declined and a search began for ways to update the Institute's image and keep it relevant to younger women. Then, out of the blue, came the Calendar Girls. The old `jam and Jerusalem' image of the WI was swept away by the energy, imagination and sheer courage of the women of Rylstone WI, leading to a renewed interest in and respect for the organisation.
Today, the WI remains a powerful force in women's lives, providing a source of fun, friendship and creativity across the counties.
Mavis Curtis spent her career in primary teaching and social work and is now retired. She has a PhD from the University of Sheffield and has contributed to numerous books, journals and magazines, including The Lore of the Playground (Random House), a social history of children's games. During research on the WI in 2012 for the Oxford Times, she was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people she met. She is now a new and very enthusiastic recruit. She lives in Oxfordshire.