The real story beind ‘Jam’and ‘Jerusalem’
‘For Home and Country’ has been the rallying statement for millions of women since it was devised in 1902 by Ms Laura Rose, who in 1899 had been appointed by the Ontario Government to assist a new organisation, the Women’s Institute. Laura was a graduate of the Farm Dairy School, a college tutor and speaker at many WI meetings and author of the text book, ‘Farm Dairying’.
There are currently 212,000 members and 6,600 Women’s Institute branches in Great Britain. So the Women’s Institute can say it has certainly come a long way both literally and figuratively since it was first set up by Adelaide Hoodless in the village of Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada, back in 1897!
Jerusalem sung at the start of WI meetings is self-explanatory – underpinning as its words tell us to try and achieve the best living conditions by our own efforts… In 1916, before he tragically died in the Spanish Flu pandemic two years later, Sir Hubert Parry was asked by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges to compose music for William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’. Sir Hubert assigned his copyright to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies for use as a ‘Women Voters Hymn’ after talks with Millicent Garratt Fawcett and the copyright was thereafter given to the Women’s Institute by his executors after the NUWSS was wound up in 1928.
Now about that jam?
The WI was set up in 1915 after the outbreak of World War One in order to encourage women in rural communities to grow food and preserve it to help supply nourishment to the war-deprived population.
Then called upon yet again in World War Two, it’s recorded that from 1940 to 1945 members of the WI produced a staggering 5,300 tons of preserves to put on the nation’s bread. No mean feat and one that shouldn’t be belittled!
In the decades since peace was declared, many interesting and positive WI campaigns have been discussed and launched by women living in rural communities that have had national – and even international – impact on all women’s lives.
In the 1950’s there was a ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ anti-litter campaign that caught the imagination of everyone with billboards FOR HOME AND COUNTRY The real story behind ‘Jam and Jerusalem’15 and stickers everywhere to be seen.
The 1960’s may have been swinging for some, but the WI kept the nation on course with solid efforts like support for the National Art Exhibition, opening WI’s in psychiatric hospitals, warning of the availability of habit-forming drugs to young people and commissioning an opera – music by Malcolm Williamson, libretto by Ursula Vaughan Williams – The Brilliant and the Dark, about women’s lives through the ages.
The 1970’s reflected the new understandings of wider issues for women generally. There was a call for full, free family planning services and more nursery education.
The 80’s were punctuated by efforts to raise awareness about the need for education on solvent abuse, vigilance about child abuse and more information to be broadcast on AIDS.
A less obvious initiative in the interests of equality was made in 1993 when the Women’s Institute held a ‘Woman Driver of the Year’ competition.
As the new 21st century arrived, the public perception, and often it seems misconception of the raison d’etre for the Women’s Institute and the kind of women that collectively make up its membership, was changed in a way that couldn’t have been bettered by any PR company employed for the purpose!
The Prime Minister of the day who was prey to those commonly held popular myths about the WI was invited to speak at the AGM in June 2,000 which was to be televised. He was told that politics and religion were not areas that would be acceptable – nevertheless he began as he meant to go on – ignored those guidelines and was heckled, jeered and slow-handclapped. Some women actually walked out.
He may not have been briefed on the history of the foundation and onward progress of the women who made and make up the WI. Apart from the avowed inherent independence from political parties, institutions or church or chapel – thus encouraging non-establishment women into joining, and the first ever National federation of Women’s Institutes President having also been the first Chair of the Family Planning Association, President of the Ladies Golf Union and a director of the Westminster Press among other activities, he could have done with reading the objects of the organisation he was addressing…
The WI states in its company objects that it exists mainly 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 education in citizenship; to address public questions both national and international, in music, drama and other cultural subjects and branches of agriculture, handicrafts, home economics, health and social welfare; to give women the opportunity to work together and put into practice the ideals for which the Women’s Institute stands