Public Health, 1910 – 1970

The WI were instrumental in bringing water supplies and better sanitation to rural areas.

Abberley Lives looked into the great changes to rural life following the introduction of running water, drainage, gas & electricity & the increasing availability of labour saving devices.

Granted better educations & the right to vote, the WI encouraged women to become more active in their local community.

  • Who was at the Big Houses & how did they contribute to village welfare?
  • Women begin to vote & to stand for positions of influence in local area
  • Introduction of water supply
  • Education & introduction of proper sanitation & hygiene conditions: running water, drainage, indoor bathrooms etc
  • Education regarding food & nutrition
  • Education regarding parenting & childcare
  • Development of communications: buses, post office, private cars
  • Health care: village GP, Isolation hospital

We used many of the following sources


  • Abberley WI Committee minutes (from 1940)
  • Worcs Federation of WI archives
  • Electoral register gives details of women eligible to vote
  • Census & commercial directories give evidence of relative status
  • Census statistics: give details sanitation arrangements
  • Public health committees reports & minutes (Martley RDC, Worcs County Council)
  • School log books & County Medical Officer records give indication of rate of infectious diseases reported
  • OS, Worcs CC planning dept & Water Co maps of village
  • Commercial directories list GP services, buses & other communications
  • local papers
  • Oral history & reminiscence
  • Photographs
  • Methodist Church records (WI often associated in early days with non-conformity or Liberal / reforming groups)


  • Published histories of WI & WI website
  • Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government, 1865-1914, Patricia Hollis (OUP, 1989)
  • Reshaping Rural England: a social history 1850-1925, Alun Howkins (Harper Collins, 1991)
  • Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, David Kynaston (Bloomsbury)
  • Family Britain, 1951-1957, David Kynaston (Bloomsbury, 2009)

National Federation of Womens’ Institutes resolutions and actions

1920: NFWI AGM passed a resolution urging WI members to stand for Parish & District councils & for the committees dealing with health & housing

1922: A resolution was passed at the AGM urging more public health education to prevent venereal disease.

1930: A resolution was passed asking for improved water supplies in villages, as was another calling for the preservation of ancient buildings

1931: A resolution was passed at the AGM requesting better medical supervision of pregnant women in rural areas.

1941: NFWI published a report based on a survey of WI members who housed evacuees, Town Children through Country Eyes. Stimulates national debate about support for families ultimately leading to the establishment of family allowances after the war.

1943: Sir Richard Livingstone, speaking at The Questions of the Day residential conference, suggested that the WI should start its own residential college of adult education.

1943: The first AGM since 1939 was held; resolutions included urging the Government that equal facilities for full education at all levels should be provided in town & country & a demand that men & women should receive equal pay for equal work.

1947: Rural midwives allowed to use analgesics, something for which the WI had campaigned.

1950: AGM resolution  urging that hospitals would allow parents to visit children.

1951: Ideal Home Exhibition, Olympia. WI members contributed to design of the WI house which was built at the exhibition. Designed for a working family, it incorporated a porch outside the back door for muddy boots!

1956: AGM expressed concerning over railway closures

1963: The AGM called for coordinated public transport in rural areas

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