It was during World War I that a young New Zealand teacher, Anna Elizabeth Jerome Spencer, saw a poster outside a hall in London.
It was advertising an exhibition by the local Women's Institute, and among the items on display were handcrafts contributed by women from all walks of life, including Queen Mary and her ladies-in-waiting.
Originally begun in Canada in 1914, the Women's Institute movement quickly spread to the United Kingdom, where it came to Miss Spencer's notice while she was working as a Red Cross volunteer helping provide welfare services for New Zealand soldiers.
It was the idea of a network for women to share their skills, and to work together for the benefit of their communities that inspired Miss Spencer. She already had a successful teaching career, including serving as the principal of Napier Girls' High School. But she never forgot the idea that a New Zealand version of the Women's Institute might benefit New Zealand rural women too and after she returned to New Zealand, she pursued the idea. The first New Zealand Country Women's Institute meeting was held in the Hawke's Bay in 1921.
Especially before the era of mass communication, the Country Women's Institute provided a valuable way for women, especially rural women, to form networks and make friends.
This year, the New Zealand Women's Institute celebrates its centenary and last week the Taupō branch of the New Zealand Federation of Women's Institutes marked the occasion with a display at the Taupō Library. It is also inviting more women to join it.
The national Women's Institute centenary celebrations were held last weekend in Napier and included unveiling a bronze statue of Miss Spencer outside the Napier Cathedral.
Taupō branch president Pat Rodgers says the Women's Institute's aim is to encourage and support all women in their communities, teach and share homemaking skills, provide fun and friendship, encourage leadership, help others and provide opportunities to be involved in arts and handcrafts.
Pat says the Women's Institute (it changed its name from the Country Women's Institute in 2004) has retained its traditional "home and country" ethos but also expanded into other areas and one of its key objectives is, where members see a need, to try to meet it.
In Taupō, that means things like collecting Christmas presents for Awhina Society to distribute to children at Christmas time, making donations of food, clothing and money during disasters, raising money for Kidney Kids NZ, knitting slippers for the children at Mountview School, and having fun activities. Its members knit for Pregnancy Help, the Taupō Maternity Unit and for the children staying at both women's refuges and joined in a nationwide Women's Institute drive to knit outfits for newborn babies in third world countries. They also have trips, events and speakers and in the past the Taupō Women's Institute has been the winner of the Trustpower Regional Volunteers Awards in the health and wellbeing section.
During the Great Depression, Taupō Country Women's Institute members provided food to local children after a local GP raised his concern about some of them lacking adequate nourishment. Members made soup and delivered it to Taupō Primary School five days a week for two years, along with clothes. Members even informally adopted seven abandoned children whose parents could not care for them during those terrible years.
During the polio epidemic Country Women's Institutes nationwide set up Santa trucks which gave out presents to children stuck in lockdown, and in World War II members were active in supporting the war effort, making money belts for soldiers, knitting balaclavas and socks, mittens and scarves and baking food to send to soldiers overseas.
Pat says the Taupō branch, which is one of three branches in the Rotorua Federation of Women's Institutes, has some 26 members and more are always welcome.
They meet every third Tuesday of the month at St Paul's Union Church at 1.30pm.
Meetings typically have a small amount of business, a guest speaker, competitions and other activities such as knitting baby outfits for Pregnancy Help.
"We have a lot of fun," Pat says.