Matfield WI began at a meeting on October 19th 1921 in the Parish Room, Matfield, when Mrs Golding in the Chair proposed that a Women’s Institute should be formed in Matfield. A Committee was elected. The President was Miss Tomlinson and the Vice-President was Mrs Sassoon (mother of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon). It was discussed whether the meetings should be held every first Wednesday in the month or whether it should be every fourth Wednesday. The first Wednesday was’proposed and seconded and that is the way it has been for the past ninety years. Tea hostesses would be chosen alphabetically and a charge would be made for visitors. Two tea pots and a water jug were bought and they even raised money for a WI piano that they hired out – making sure that the hirer paid for transport and re-tuning!
Programmes for the meetings were suggested and included sweet making, glove making with rabbit skins, basketwork, rug making, millinery, folk dancing, picnics and outings. They took part in competitions, fetes, whist drives and drama. In the 1940s The National Federation began to administer the Ministry of Food’s fruit preservation scheme. The Matfield ladies rose to the challenge and produced 1570 lbs of jam! They also started a knitting party and supported the Seaman’s Mission. Institutes were asked to support Mrs Churchill’s `Aid to Russia Fur Scheme’ by making hoods and caps lined with rabbit fur for Russian women and there is mention in the minutes complaining that insufficient notice was given to the Institute to cure the rabbit skins!
Membership continued to rise, almost reaching eighty at one time, and ladies provided teas at the sports day and gave Christmas parties for children and pensioners. They wrote to the authorities to request better bus services and contributed towards the coal for the boiler to heat the hall.
National Resolutions over the years included concern about the use of toxic sprays and the availability of habit-forming drugs to children and young people. They were concerned about the countryside, doorstep milk deliveries, campaigned for single sex wards in hospitals and, as times changed, they showed an awareness of modern technology with reference to embryo research, DNA testing, osteoporosis, genetically modified food, and the better control of the credit industry! Recently our campaigns have been `SOS for honey bees’ and to stop the closure of libraries.
Much reference in the minute books and scrap books is made to parties, whether they are held in someone’s garden, at Christmas or one of the milestone years of Matfield WI. In the 20s it was 40 loaves, 2lbs of potted meat, 4lbs tea and 12lb sugar. In 1971, to mark 50 years, Double Century Sherry was bought together with eight bottles of red and twelve bottles of white wine.
At our 90th Birthday party over eighty guests gathered in the village hall to celebrate. With black, white and red decorations and candle arrangements on the tables the hall was transformed. Everyone tucked into a magnificent buffet supper with wine (keeping with tradition!) Entertainment was provided by magician John Field, the local newspaper took photographs and the cake cut and shared. The evening finished with the raffle and we are extremely grateful to all the local businesses who generously gave a prize. Our winners were delighted!
It is the sharing of events like this that makes any WI special. We continue to support each other by attending meetings and taking part in activities; we support our communities and continue to campaign nationally. As I have found by reading through our minute books, hairstyles change, fashions change but the values and some of the activities of the WI remain constant.
(First published after the 90th anniversary of Matfield WI in the December 2011 issue of Roundabout magazine)