The Women’s Institute was first established in 1897 in Ontario, Canada, as a branch of the Farmer’s Institute. When the first UK branch was opened in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey in September of 1915, its primary objectives were to help improve the lives of those living in rural communities, and also to encourage women to play a greater role in producing food, which was particularly important at this time due to the ongoing war.
In 1965 the National Federation of Women’s Institutes celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Various events were held nationally and locally to celebrate the occasion. WI branches were encouraged to compile scrapbooks of the countryside: ‘Our Village in 1965’, to enter into a competition as part of their jubilee celebrations. 29 Glamorgan WI’s entered scrapbooks into the county-wide competition, with the best three entrants, Penmaen and Nicholston (scrapbook now at West Glamorgan Archive Service), Pentyrch (ref. DXNO12/1) and Southerndown (ref: DXNO27/1), going through to a national final with an exhibition in London.
Designed as a permanent record of country and village life in 1965, the scrapbooks covered a range of topics including geography, nature, buildings, fashion, personalities and village life in general. In 1967 Miss Madeline Elsas, the then County Archivist, made a request to all branches who had compiled a scrapbook to place it in the County Record Office for safekeeping. Shortly after their deposit an exhibition was mounted in order to show off the scrapbooks.
Glamorgan Archives holds 20 of these scrapbooks alongside other records from the local branches. The scrapbooks include maps and photographs of their villages, details of clubs, societies, shops and various other amenities, and newspaper cuttings relating to the local ‘hot topics’ of the time. Many have attempted to give a snapshot of life much like a time capsule, including details on fashion, interior design and popular toys.
As one might imagine, the scrapbooks were compiled in a variety of creative ways including an embroidered map adorning the cover of Kenfig WI’s scrapbook (ref.: DXNO4/1).
St Fagan’s WI’s scrapbook (ref.: DXNO23/1) included curtain fabric fashioned into mini curtains, along with samples of the carpet and wallpaper used to decorate members’ homes in 1965 to demonstrate current trends in interior design.
Southerndown WI’s scrapbook (ref.: DXNO27/1) concludes with a poem to the future reader ’50 years on’. A reader in 2015 may have found this quite prophetic!