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You are here: > About TG > TG and the WI

TG and the WI

We assume that, to reach this page, you were searching for information on the WI, perhaps with an eye to joining. Our apologies for distracting you, but at the Townswomen's Guild (TG), we believe that we are the best women only membership organisation around. 

We know that there are numerous similarities between TG and our sisters at the Women's Institute (WI). We are both women only organisations whose members meet regularly to enjoy one another’s company but there are some significant differences that set us apart. 

History: The WI was founded in the UK in 1915 copying the Canadian model set up by Adelaide Hoodless. Her aim was to improve women’s domestic skills. (Incidentally, Adelaide firmly believed that a woman’s place was in the home and that a full education was unnecessary for them.) In the UK the first WI was set up by a man and they were soon adopted by the Board of Agriculture, as a way of harnessing women to improve food production. Lady Denman, the first national WI Chairman was appointed by Government, based on her experience as wife of the Governor -General of Australia.

The first Townswomen’s Guild did not open until 1929 after the vote had been granted to all women on the same terms as men. We were established by the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) who themselves were the renamed National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Our initial funding came from NUSEC and from its supporters. Our Founders were Dame Margery Corbett Ashby and Eva Hubback who had held prominent posts in the Suffrage movement, especially in the final push for equal franchise. TG also inherited the NUSEC magazine The Woman’s Leader.

Original purposes:
For the WI these were “to do all the good we can, in every way we can, to all the people we can, and above all to study household good in any work which makes for the betterment of our house, the advancement of our people, and the good of our country”.  

For TG these were “to encourage the education of women to enable them as citizens to make their best contribution towards the Common Good; and to serve as a common meeting ground for women irrespective of creed and party, for their wider education including social activities”.

Purposes today:
Both organisation’s objects have evolved but the WI’s continue to specifically cover the education of women and girls in all branches of agriculture, crafts, home economics science, health and social welfare, and TG continues to educate women to make the best contribution to the Common Good. TG’s objects are also changing to clarify that the Guilds may carry out any charitable activity, including fundraising, that will make women’s lives better.

We can’t tell you what happens at WI meetings, but we know that most TG meetings are much less formal. Most Guilds offer a monthly meeting with a speaker, workshop or other shared activity. Many Guilds offer groups or sections with book and craft groups featuring highly. Some have a social studies or current affairs group and there are al lot of ramble, amble or stroll groups. Food (and sometimes drink) also features highly in most Guilds as do outings to places of interest, theatre trips and sometimes even holidays.

Membership:
The early history of the WI was very class driven (you may have seen the series “Home Fires” on ITV in 2015). The committee of an Institute was formed from the middle classes, including the doctor’s, vicar’s and main landowner’s wives, and the workers’ wives were the doers. It was also exclusively rural with its constitution restricting Institutes to areas with a population of fewer than 4,000. Today Institutes also exist in towns and cities.

TG members typically live in towns or cities and are drawn from the whole population regardless of race, creed or politics. It is possible to join TG at the age of 16 whereas WI members must be over 18.

Structure:
Both organisations have groups (Guilds or Institutes), federations and a national body. In TG the role of the Federation is to bring Guilds together for shared activities. They may offer support but play no role in regulation or policy setting.

In the WI all Institutes are affiliated to a Federation, usually based on County borders. WI Federations have their own properties and staff and receive a set share of the overall subscription. Federation officers also have a strong supervisory role.


Paperwork and governance:
In both organisations groups are autonomous bodies. But the definition of autonomy is very different. From setting up to closing, a WI must follow the substantial rule book and its Federation’s directions. That can be hard in London which has no Federation and must follow rules intended for rural institutes. Anecdotal evidence from WI officers suggest that a WI must complete considerably more paperwork, more frequently, than a Guild does.

At TG we believe in supporting our Guilds and offering guidance when it is requested. We have no formal powers to intervene in the running of a Guild, but may take advisory action, including a visit, if we become aware that the Guild has problems. We send our Guilds two information mailings a year, plus a membership return. In a normal year the Membership return is the only thing that must be sent back to TGHQ.

We understand WI members are constantly being asked for money in addition to the centrally set £41 subscription (the institutes only keep £20 of this). At TG we ask Guilds to collect an affiliation fee of £17 per person for the National body but we believe it is most appropriate for Guilds to determine their overall subscription or adopt other ways of funding themselves.


The beginning not the end:
As we celebrate the centenary of some women getting the vote and the progress made since then, we know there are still many inequalities in our society. With the events that lead to the #MeToo campaign making headlines, we can’t ignore the need to continue to fight for women's rights. As our founders were involved in the original fight for equality, we see the centenary as a reason to raise awareness of the issues that women across the world continue to face. We fight on. Campaigning is part of our DNA. if you feel strongly about the issues that face women today and want to make a difference, TG is the place for you. But don't worry if it's not your 'cup of tea', campaigning is not mandatory. You can be involved with TG for all the other great reasons.





What next?

So if this has made you consider joining TG instead of WI why not find out more information about the TG, find your local guild and pay them a visit?




Interested in joining?



If you've made your mind up and you want to join TG - FANTASTIC! Please complete the enquiry form below and we will get someone local to you, to give you a call.

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Alternatively, if you are still looking for the WI please click here - https://www.thewi.org.uk



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