Campaigners-in-chief: WI members get active in the post-war years

The General Education Committee of Worcestershire Federation of WIs concerned itself with a surprisingly wide range of subjects.  The signed committee minutes for 1946 to 1963, now held in Worcestershire Archives (BA14296/Box 14 and Box 17), show that in addition to overseeing the delivery or development of general educational opportunities for women, children and young people in the county,  the committee addressed issues such as the inadequacy of rural bus services, the raising of the school leaving age, transfer of medical services as part of the formation of the National Health Service, training in analgesia for community nurses and midwives, collection of books for the Dominions and membership of the United Nations Organisation (UNO).

During this period, members of the committee also sat on the County Council Children’s Committee, the County Health Committee and the county and local council planning committees.

In 1950, the committee undertook a survey of Water & Sewerage in the county, based upon the County Water & Sewerage survey of 1943/1944.  At a meeting on 4 Apr 1950, committee member, Mrs Briggs, reported that ‘…at Martley the water situation was still unchanged although the School sewerage had been improved.  Miss Mills agreed to make some enquiries here. No water was yet available at Little Witley owing to some non-delivery of pipes.’

In the minute book covering 10 Apr 1953 to 1 Nov 1963, the minutes include mention of the transfer of medical services and special schools to local health authority control, including maternity services, children’s homes and the Bromsgrove School for Backward Children.

At this time, the committee also supervised the voluntary management of library services in rural villages such as Broadway, Astley and Hagley.  These were gradually replaced by County Council library branches or mobile library services.  This is of great interest considering the National Federation of WIs recent report stating that volunteers cannot continue to be used as sticking plaster in the library service.

On 2 Apr 1954, the committee voted to hold a conference on ‘The Effect of Mental Instability on Family life’ ‘with a caveat that so often the family home needs improvement before any question of the mother’s mental instability arises.’ (minutes, 1 Jan 1954)

At the following meeting, 7 May 1954, the conference was discussed in detail, and the title of the event changed to ‘The Importance to the Country of a Happy Home Life’.  With commendable determination that no woman should have to miss their opportunity to participate, subsequent plans for the conference included finding a venue with a spare room where members of Tardebigge WI could host a crèche for the children of women attendees.  Unfortunately, despite these efforts, at a meeting on 5 Nov 1954, the chair reported that the conference had been cancelled ‘owing to very poor response’.

These extracts just scratch the surface of the goodies contained in the minute books of the General Education Committee.  Concerned with the external influences on the lives of WI members, these committee officers actively maintained a role as campaigners-in-chief, ensuring that they are involved in matters that affected the lives of women and children at all levels and in all areas of local government.  There is much here to fuel further research.

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