An exhibition at the Central Hawke's Bay Museum, Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Institute in New Zealand, is part of the Founders' Day exhibition that featured at the MTG in Napier, but with a special display featuring the Central Hawke's Bay Federation.
With the closure of the Rissington WI, Otawha-Takapau is New Zealand's oldest Women's Institute, running since 1924.
Originally called the Country Women's Instutute, the organisation brought much needed support and social contact to women who were otherwise isolated, with many women pushing prams for miles over rough metal roads to attend and some some coming across paddocks, by horse-drawn gig or on foot as cars were few and women with driver's licences even fewer.
The meetings were so important to these rural women that school pupils were allowed home early on "meeting days" so they could be taken along.
It was a time when meetings were held in members' homes or in school buildings, with children very much included, and husbands lending a willing hand to set up halls for flower shows, Christmas parties and dances.
The Institutes, eventually renamed simply Women's Institutes, offered fun and friendship, taught homemaking skills and crafts and encouraged civic awareness and the use of the members' talents to help the young, the old and the less fortunate.
Over the years, membership of WI passed down through the generations — the young mothers of WI becoming mothers and grandmothers and encouraging daughters and daughters-in-law to join.
There are now 36 Federations of WI nationwide, with annual meetings held around the country — Covid permitting — and the members look forward to the travel and meeting up with friends. Competitions both regional and national single out the best of the craftworkers, with CHB featuring highly in the prizewinners over the years.
The work in the community still goes on. Members knit for premature babies and for pregnancy help, collect food for the SPCA and step up wherever their skills can be utilised.
Vice President of the CHB Federation Mary Drummond says there is always a need in the community for some form of help, and the WI is the "eyes and ears" on the street for that need.
"We are always open to new members — the WI is a great source of friendship and and a good way to meet new people and share skills. The structure of the institute has been here for 100 years and it is tried and true. We look after each other and our communities. We have those original stalwarts of the organisation to thank for instilling that."
The exhibition at the Central Hawke's Bay Museum, High St, Waipawa, runs until February 25.