The first Women's Institute was formed at Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada in the year 1897. Its object was to form a society for women comparable with the Society for men known as the Farmers' Institute. Gradually the Movement spread to Europe, the first Institute in Ireland being formed in 1910, in Wales in 1915, with England following soon after, and then in Scotland at Longniddry, East Lothian, in 1917.
For the first five years SWRI was run by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland with an Advisory Council of 4 SWRI members, one each from the North West, the North East, Central and South Areas. Organisers were appointed to work in the areas. In 1922 the organisation of the 224 institutes was taken over by the new Central Council, supported by a Treasury grant received through the Board. A Secretary, who was to serve for 30 years, was appointed.
Over the next few years Central Council became stronger, and the movement became self-supporting, except for Treasury grants from the Development Commissioners to Headquarters for Handicrafts, Housewifery, for organisation and development in the Highlands and Islands, grants from the Scottish Education Department for specified purposes, and monies from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust direct to Federations for tuition in Visual Arts.
SWRI's own magazine Scottish Home and Country was founded in 1924. At first it was published quarterly, then every second month, and finally monthly.
The 1925 Conference decided to form County Federations, and to move the Central Council Offices from Perth to Edinburgh. The 1st Edinburgh HQ was in North St David Street.
In 1918 the Board of Agriculture for Scotland had invited Institutes to submit designs for a badge. That sent in by Glamis WRI was chosen, and approved by delegates to the 2nd Annual National Conference in 1919. It is based on the Luckenbooth brooch or Witch Heart, the crown of which usually has five jewels. The SWRI crown has four with the initials inset in them. The motto For Home & Country is set within the heart.
The war years curtailed many SWRI activities. The blackout meant monthly meetings being arranged to coincide with moonlight nights. In a few cases they had to be abandoned, but this did not mean silence on the Rural front. The members turned their energies and enthusiasm to the war effort. Those who had attended Schools and obtained Test Certificates helped to teach crafts in isolated camps and hospitals. The Guilds Committee at Headquarters soon organised the distribution of wool for comforts and also arranged for a van to tour the more isolated districts to demonstrate the cooking of home-grown vegetables and the preservation of fruit, both canned and bottled, and to encourage the Grow more Food campaign for small gardens and allotments.
With end of hostilities, Institutes and Federations gradually returned to normal, and the usual activities were resumed, but to these were added a wider view of community work and interest in local affairs.
A significant milestone in the history of SWRI was the purchase in 1951, by means of money raised by the Institutes, of the premises at 42 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, for a Headquarters. The building was adapted and furnished with a Carnegie Grant of 2550.
In 1959 SWRI acted as hostess society for the 9th Triennial Conference of ACWW, held in Edinburgh, which was attended by 1000 overseas delegates.
On 29th June, 1964, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited SWRI Headquarters. In 1967, the year SWRI celebrated its Golden Jubilee; the organisation was honoured by the presence of Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh at a reception at Ingliston, attended by three members from each Federation. On the morning of the same day the Queen Mother had addressed the Jubilee Conference.
A set of stool tops embroidered by members for the Queen to mark her 25th Wedding Anniversary are housed in the Portrait Gallery of Holyroodhouse. These were repaired and restored by members in 1997, the year of SWRI's 80th birthday, which coincided with the Centenary of the WI movement.
In 1992, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary, a Jubilee flag was was passed from Federation to Federation. The Office Bearers and Conveners were honoured by being welcomed to Balmoral by HM The Queen and HRH Duke of Edinburgh for afternoon tea.
In 1994 SWRI's tartan was designed by Kinloch Anderson, Edinburgh and was launched in 1995 at a ceilidh featuring Jimmy Shand Junior and his band. The history of the SWRI is recalled in past articles from Scottish Home & Country magazine. Please click here to read them.