Women’s Institute members aren’t the only ones who should be celebrating the 100th anniversary of their organization in this province. All Islanders should be. The PEIWI has been a pillar of Island life during the past 100 years, strengthening communities and shaping generations of Islanders.
Quite simply, where — and who — would we be without it?
The organization is marking its centennial through a series of events throughout the year, including the upcoming launch of a book by George Doughart that offers a historical overview of the organization. Other initiatives are too many to mention, but they include the release of a centennial cookbook, the 40th anniversary of roadside cleanups, a founding celebration evening, a provincial convention, a Government House tea, fitness challenges and many more. The year is replete with events that draw our attention to the organization and its wide range of initiatives. The sum of it all underscores the remarkable legacy the Women’s Institute has in this province.
Doughart’s book outlines how the institute began in 1913 after the federal government implemented the Agriculture Instruction Act to promote and advance the agriculture sector. The act also sought to improve the conditions of rural life, particularly for women and children. Twenty-one institutes were formed that first year in the province. When the First World War broke out, WI members also took on initiatives to support the war effort. By the Second World War, there were more than 4,000 women in 270 branches across the province. “The Women’s Institute really branched out after the war…it was almost like a cultural revolution for them,” Doughart said, referring to the vast array of initiatives in the 1940s and 1950s promoting everything from music education and rural beautification to drama and handicrafts. The most well-known example of the latter is the display of handcrafts each year at the Provincial Exhibition.
But it’s clear that one of the reasons the WI has endured for a century is because of its ability to re-invent itself to respond to changing needs. Doughart refers, for example, to the challenges presented to rural Islanders when the Comprehensive Development Plan ushered in such things as school consolidation. The institute adapted to the change by working with new committees and initiatives formed to advance the cause of education. As well, many WI branches bought some of the schools that were closed and turned them into community centres. “They didn’t let the past get lost and they didn’t let the future get away from them,” was how Doughart put it.
As a result of the group’s commitment to Island life, it has taken on new initiatives, such as the annual roadside cleanup, agriculture promotion and buy-local initiatives, support for building and equipment campaigns at Island hospitals, and partnerships with health promotion campaigns. Staying relevant has allowed the organization to maintain an impressive membership, although numbers have dropped — as they have with many volunteer organizations affected by the entry of more women into the workforce. Today there are more than 1,100 WI members in 94 branches across the Island.
Anniversaries are opportunities for people to mark certain milestones. As the Women’s Institute of Prince Edward Island observes its 100th anniversary, its members should take great satisfaction in their remarkable achievements during the last century. And all Islanders owe this organization their gratitude not only for the service and support they’ve provided to Island communities, but for their example of community service. Throughout the last century, women of successive generations have responded to the challenges of their day. And we are all richer today because of their efforts.