TG and the WI
At the Townswomen's Guild (TG) we believe we are the best women's organisation around.
We know that there
are numerous similarities between TG and our sisters at the Women's Institute
(WI). We are both women only organisations whose members meet regularly to
enjoy one another’s company but there are some significant differences that set
The WI was founded in the UK in 1915 copying
the Canadian model set up by Adelaide Hoodless. Her aim was to improve women’s
domestic skills. (Incidentally, Adelaide firmly believed that a woman’s place
was in the home and that a full education was unnecessary for them.) In the UK
the first WI was set up by a man and they were soon adopted by the Board of
Agriculture, as a way of harnessing women to improve food production. Lady
Denman, the first national WI Chairman was appointed by Government, based on
her experience as wife of the Governor -General of Australia.
The first Townswomen’s Guild did not open until 1929 after the vote had
been granted to all women on the same terms as men. We were established by the
National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) who themselves were
the renamed National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Our initial funding
came from NUSEC and from its supporters. Our Founders were Dame Margery Corbett
Ashby and Eva Hubback who had held prominent posts in the Suffrage movement,
especially in the final push for equal franchise. TG also inherited the NUSEC
magazine The Woman’s Leader.
For the WI these were
“to do all the good we can, in every way we can, to all the people we can, and
above all to study household good in any work which makes for the betterment of
our house, the advancement of our people, and the good of our country”.
For TG these were “to
encourage the education of women to enable them as citizens to make their best
contribution towards the Common Good; and to serve as a common meeting ground
for women irrespective of creed and party, for their wider education including social
organisation’s objects have evolved but the WI’s continue to specifically cover
the education of women and girls in all branches of agriculture, crafts, home
economics science, health and social welfare, and TG continues to educate women
to make the best contribution to the Common Good. TG’s objects are also
changing to clarify that the Guilds may carry out any charitable activity,
including fundraising, that will make women’s lives better.
We can’t tell you what happens at WI meetings,
but we know that most TG meetings are much less formal. Most Guilds offer a
monthly meeting with a speaker, workshop or other shared activity. Many Guilds
offer groups or sections with book and craft groups featuring highly. Some have
a social studies or current affairs group and there are al lot of ramble, amble
or stroll groups. Food (and sometimes drink) also features highly in most
Guilds as do outings to places of interest, theatre trips and sometimes even
The early history of the WI was very class driven (you may have seen the
series “Home Fires” on ITV in 2015). The committee of an Institute was formed
from the middle classes, including the doctor’s, vicar’s and main landowner’s
wives, and the workers’ wives were the doers. It was also exclusively rural
with its constitution restricting Institutes to areas with a population of
fewer than 4,000. Today Institutes also exist in towns and cities.
TG members typically live in towns or cities and are drawn from the
whole population regardless of race, creed or politics. It is possible to join
TG at the age of 16 whereas WI members must be over 18.
Both organisations have groups (Guilds or
Institutes), federations and a national body. In TG the role of the Federation
is to bring Guilds together for shared activities. They may offer support but
play no role in regulation or policy setting.
In the WI all Institutes are affiliated to a
Federation, usually based on County borders. WI Federations have their own
properties and staff and receive a set share of the overall subscription.
Federation officers also have a strong supervisory role.
Paperwork and governance:
In both organisations groups are
autonomous bodies. But the definition of autonomy is very different. From
setting up to closing, a WI must follow the substantial rule book and its
Federation’s directions. That can be hard in London which has no Federation and
must follow rules intended for rural institutes. Anecdotal evidence from WI
officers suggest that a WI must complete considerably more paperwork, more
frequently, than a Guild does.
At TG we believe in supporting our Guilds and offering guidance when it is
requested. We have no formal powers to intervene in the running of a Guild, but
may take advisory action, including a visit, if we become aware that the Guild has
problems. We send our Guilds two information mailings a year, plus a membership
return. In a normal year the Membership return is the only thing that must be sent
back to TGHQ.
We understand WI members are constantly being
asked for money in addition to the centrally set £41 subscription (the
institutes only keep £20 of this). At TG we ask Guilds to collect an
affiliation fee of £17 per person for the National body but we believe it is
most appropriate for Guilds to determine their overall subscription or adopt
other ways of funding themselves.
The beginning not the end:
As we celebrate the
centenary of some women getting the vote and the progress made since then, we know
there are still many inequalities in our society. With the events that lead to
the #MeToo campaign making headlines, we can’t ignore the need to continue to
fight for women's rights. As our founders were involved in the original fight
for equality, we see the centenary as a reason to raise awareness of the issues
that women across the world continue to face. We fight on. Campaigning is part
of our DNA. if you feel strongly about the issues that face women today and
want to make a difference, TG is the place for you. But don't worry if it's not
your 'cup of tea', campaigning is not mandatory. You can be involved with TG
for all the other great reasons.
So if this has made you consider joining TG instead of the WI, why not find out more information about TG, see if there is a Guild near you, and if there is, why not pay them a visit?
Interested in joining?
If you've made your mind up and you want to join TG - FANTASTIC! Please complete the enquiry form below and we will get someone local to you, to give you a call.
Alternatively, if you are still looking for the WI please click here - https://www.thewi.org.uk