The Women’s Institute was a Canadian import which reached this country in 1915. It started in rural Stoney Creek, Ontario by Adelaide Hoodless in 1897 from a meeting of the wives of the farmers union. The first meeting of the WI in Great Britain was in September 1915 in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwillllantysiliogogogoch, Wales and the first County Federation (Sussex), was formed in 1917.
The same year saw the first Annual General Meeting of WI delegates and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes was formed with Lady Denman as the first chairman. The organisation was and still is, rigorously independent from other institutions and politics and its aims were to provide country women of all classes with education, social activities and to campaign on issues important to its members, aims which are still proclaimed today on the Chinnor WI website.
The Women’s Institute branch in Chinnor was formed in January 1923 when a
meeting was called by Lady Sillam (in the chair) to discuss the formation of a branch of the WI. Thirty -eight women attended and it was unanimously voted to that a WI should be started in Chinnor with Lady Sillam as president. The inaugural meeting was held on February 7th 1923 and 24 women both single and married enrolled.
The minutes from the 1920s to 1940s, indicate a range of topics addressed, and what shines through is the story of a group of women with the welfare of their community at heart, and it can be seen that Chinnor took its health very seriously, there being a continuous demand for health and medical information. as the following extracts show.
Following its inauguration and over the next two decades a spectrum of health and medical talks and initiatives were put in place. In January 1926 there was a talk by a Miss Adams on ‘What to do in an emergency’ (unspecified) whilst in October 1928 Claire Groslett, (no title given) gave a lecture on the ‘New Facts About the Prevention of Disease’ and in January 1929 a competition was run for the best article submitted on the subject of ‘First Aid at Home.’Later that year the group identified the need to acquire a range of ‘sick room requisites’ for loaning out to the village and in October, along with a talk on ‘Enemies of Health, Germs and their Work,’ it was suggested that home nursing lessons be held each week and that this would be put to good use by forming a sick visiting committee which was formed in 1931. In March 1932 it was decided that more information was wanted on Red Cross classes and in May, Dr. Levekus gave a talk on ‘Remedies in the Home.’ In 1933 it was decided that the theme of the year would be health and Dr. Carling (a local GP) spoke of the ‘Question of Health and the Good of our Country.’ Later that year there was a talk on home remedies for colds. This was followed by talks from Dr. Carling on health and Dr. Leverkus on ‘Progress of Medicine’. In June 1934 members helped out at a health exhibition in Thame and 1935 saw Dr. Leverkus giving a talk on female anatomy whilst Miss Fry (no designation given) in 1936 gave a series of six talks on how to keep well.
The Chinnor branch of the WI noted in August 1941 that the Girl Guides were willing to collect dandelion roots (a diuretic) if there was a drying centre nearby. This was followed in September when it was decided that each WI member should collect 3lbs of dandelion roots to be delivered to Mrs. White’s home before being sent away for drying. In October, the branch got together to collect rosehips on the 13th and in the yearly report for 1941 it was reported that 236lbs of jam had been made and sold to the shops in the village. Rose hips were a valuable source of vitamin C since other sources were in very short supply.
In March 1942 it was decided that the fruit preservation scheme was to continue and in May a Fruit Preserving Committee was formed. At this meeting a circular was discussed pointing out the value of certain medicinal plants and it was agreed to collect various varieties at different times. The collection of nettles was to start immediately and dandelion roots the weekend of June 12th. In July there was a discussion on the collecting and drying of various herbs and arrangements were made to gather rosehip leaves which would be taken to Oxford. In September two collections of foxglove leaves were made and a depot for drying had been opened in Watlington. On the ninth of September it was reported that more foxglove seeds, rosehips, raspberry leaves were sent to Oxford via the depot at Watlington.