Notes for Schools

The Isle of Ely Federation of Women's Institutes Centenary Project

Notes for Schools

'The main purposes of the Women's Institute are to enable women who are interested in issues associated with rural life, including arts, crafts and sciences to improve and develop conditions of rural life; to advance their education in citizenship, in public questions both national and international, in music, drama and other cultural subjects and in all branches of agriculture, handicrafts, home economics, health and social welfare.  It seeks to give all women the opportunity of working together through the Women's Institute organisation and of putting into practice those ideals for which it stands.'

The year 2015 is a significant one for the Women's Institute.  It is the centenary of the formation of this the largest and most influential women's organisation in England and Wales.  The organisation is a three tier organisation – National Federation, Federations in each county of England and Wales and WIs within federations. 

Members in the Isle of Ely Federation have spent the past three years researching their archives, carrying out oral history interviews, visiting museums and learning how to interpret local surroundings.  The purpose of the project was to look at the lives of women in the Isle of Ely and to record how their live have changed in the past one hundred years as well as the influence that women have had and still do have in their communities.

The project was undertaken with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding.


Archives have been collected from all the WIs still active and these have been stored together with archives from suspended WIs at Wisbech and Fenland Museum.  They may be accessed for research at the Museum by prior arrangement with the Curator and the Isle of Ely Federation of WIs.  Using these archives and other resources we hope that you will find the following ideas useful in your classroom.  It will be particularly valuable for work on local history projects and there are many ways in which other curriculum areas will be able to be linked into such a project.  Many suggestions will cross over several curriculum areas.

CDs containing oral histories have been circulated to schools.

Contact Addresses:

Isle of Ely FWI Office
Address: WI Office,
March Community Centre,
March, Cambridgeshire
Postcode: PE15 8LE
Telephone: 01354 652284


Wisbech & Fenland Museum
Museum Square
PE13 1ES
Tel: 01945 583817



Listen to some of the oral histories

Write a diary entry for one of the people you have listened to – think about what you have heard and choose an event that was significant in that person's life.

Write a short account of a 'day in the life' of a farmer's wife in the 1950s

Think of someone you would like to interview – write some questions that will give you answers with lots of description.

Make some comparisons – your childhood and that of a child 50 years ago – arrange in two columns

Role Play – take on the role of a lady crossing keeper – explain why you have shut the gates and why nobody may cross.

Hot Seat a farmer from the Fens

Re-enact the arrival of a significant news event to your village

Find out whether there is a WI where you live – invite a member in for a Q and A session


 Find out how much pocket money a child of your age would have had in the 1950s.  What is the value today?

Make a list of the price of six basic groceries for a family during wartime and today.  Add up the grocery bills.


During the war WI members were urged to rear chicks as a means of providing food during rationing – rear a clutch of chicks – keep a diary of their changes.  Measure their weight and record on a graph

WI members often made their own clothes for work and best – what kind of materials would they choose?  Experiment to find: 1. the hardest wearing, 2. the warmest

In order to enjoy a varied diet country people grew many of their own vegetables which was especially important during WW2.  Cultivate a small garden to see how much you can grow.  Think carefully about what you choose – food to fill you up and food for vitamins etc.  Think about a balanced diet.

Design and Technology

Why do organisations use logos?

Look at the logos of local organisations – what are the main features?

Design a new logo for an organisation that you belong to – think about whether it should be made of cloth to sew on or another material to pin on – what kind of material would you choose?

Look at the photographs on the panels.  Research the changes that have been made in farm machinery / transport during the last 100 years.  Design a 'state of the art' farm machine / mode of transport.


The WI is known for making jam.  This has always been extremely important to ensure that fruit and vegetables are not wasted.

Evaluate the taste of different jams.

Design a label and an advertising brochure for a new jam that you will invent.

Make you own jam

Art and Design

Design a new picture postcard for the village where you live – which aspect would you like to show to visitors

During the Second World War the sons and husbands of many WI members were serving in the forces abroad.  Instead of writing a letter many people made a drawing of daily happenings on the farm or in the village to send to their husband or sons.

Choose a particular area in your village/town and construct a 3D representation of that area


Find out how the WI runs a meeting – hold your own meeting using the same format and invite a special speaker

Look at the panel 10.  What are some of the issues that are important to WI members?  How do they forward those issues?

Think about what is important to you – how could you bring this to the notice of others?  Design a leaflet/hold a meeting/ invite a speaker / create a PowerPoint presentation


Look at a map of the Isle of Ely and identify the main towns – why are they important?

Which has the greatest population?

Look on a map of the Isle – late 1800s – 1940.  Compare with a modern map.  Some villages have disappeared.  Why do you think this is?

Describe the landscape of the area and identify the main industries

Why do you think WIs were formed in the remote villages?


Look at the National Federation of WIs website.  Make a list of the important dates in the history of the Movement.

Find out who founded the Women's Institute and write a biography.

Listen to the Oral history tapes – make a list of the jobs that are spoken about.  Choose one and research that job as described / 10 years on / 20 years on / present day.

Is there evidence of industries / shops in your village that no longer exist?  Why do you think they have disappeared?

Look at the names on your village / town war memorial.

What does it tell you about the people named?

Are the families still in the village?

Look at a free ancestry website to find out more about a family

Research a local Street Directory and a Trades Directory – these will be kept in your Central Library to find out about all the businesses that have been in your village / town in the past – why do you think they are not there now?

Choose a street and compare the occupations – then and now.

Collect artefacts that are used in the home – old and new and make a museum.   Make labels to inform visitors to your museum.

Many sons and husbands of WI members from the Isle of Ely were in the Armed Forces.  Research the regiments they might have been attached to.  Where did they serve oversees?  Were they involved in any significant battles?

Think about the following questions:

1.  What are primary / secondary sources of information?

2.  Why is it important to conserve historical documents?

3.  How do you go about conserving historical documents and artefacts?

4.  What is the Heritage Lottery Fund?

5. Could you find a suitable topic for a project in your local community?

The computer will be used for many of the ideas suggested.  In addition pupils could:

Make a Power Point presentation about an imaginary WI member during the 1950s

Make a PowerPoint presentation of the role of women in the WI during the Second World War

Make a video or PowerPoint presentation about the home area highlighting significant sites and interviewing local residents.