To honour their 90th anniversary, the Shirley Women’s Institute (SWI) has partnered with the Sooke Region Museum to develop a travelling exhibit. The SWI, founded in 1924 by eight women, was the first organization in the small rural community of Shirley. Their first meeting was on October 24, 1924 at the Shirley School House, which no longer exists. Since its commencement, the institute’s goals have been to help improve the rural community and to increase the independence and self-sufficiency of its members.
While the institute is a small organization, it has made some outstanding accomplishments. For example, the SWI took on issues such as improving road conditions and access to modern services like telephones and electricity. One of the SWI’s most prominent undertakings was its involvement in the prevention of combining Thanksgiving and Remembrance (Armistice) Day into one holiday. At the October 7, 1926 meeting the SWI adopted the following resolution: “Moved by Mrs. Edwin Clark, seconded by Mrs. H.J. Kirby that-Whereas the true significance of Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day is lost by being combined in one holiday, and whereas November 11th should be kept as a holiday in honour and memory of those who made the Armistice possible, therefore be it resolved to ask women’s and other organizations to take steps to induce the Federal Government to have Armistice Day Nov. 11th proclaimed a public holiday.” The proposal had immense support and the combined holiday was prevented. The organization has also been widely recognized for their fundraising efforts.
In 2011, the institute had a revival after it nearly faced extinction due to the fact that its members were growing older and they found it difficult to keep it running. Thankfully, a few resident women, including current President Stephanie Croft, took steps towards reviving the institute. In 2011 they started with eight members, just as in 1924, and membership continues to grow. While their values and goals have remained the same as they were 90 years ago, younger generations are becoming more interested in living rural lifestyles. Thus, current membership ages range from their 20s to their 80s, which is uncommon for a Women’s Institute. To support and encourage their values, the SWI offers a variety of workshops for women wanting to learn about topics such as producing and preparing their own food, harvesting, canning, and making handicrafts.
The travelling exhibit has two portions. The first portion is a tri-fold presentation board (3’6” W x 2’4” H) that was designed in house using the program Microsoft Publisher and then sent out for printing on foam core. The tri-fold design is ideal for displaying at meetings and craft fairs. The content on the board includes information about the SWI’s origin, values and revival. It also includes pictures and documents such as the institute’s 1924 certificate of incorporation.
The second portion of the traveling exhibit is a briefcase filled with replicated documents, letters and pictures. The briefcase was donated to the museum by the SWI on September 25, 2013 and has been repurposed for this exhibit. The briefcase’s handle was falling off, so the museum’s exhibit tech stabilized it and the interior was cleaned. Nevertheless, it has some visible wear and tear. The replicated contents in the briefcase are intended to be picked up and handled. Some of the most exciting materials inside are duplicated letters sent to the SWI from World War II service men. To recreate these letters they were scanned, printed and dyed in tea to give them an aged and crinkled effect. The briefcase will be a great learning tool for people interested in the history of the organization.
In addition to the travelling exhibit, the institute requested to have artifact 1979.100.001 reproduced. This artifact is a framed collection of pictures showing 13 original members of the SWI. The reproduction will hang in the Shirley Community Hall. The 13 photographs are also included on the tri-fold presentation board.
To celebrate the SWI’s 90th anniversary, a tree planting ceremony will be held in Pioneer Park outside the Shirley Community Hall at 1:00 on Sunday September 21. The event is casual and will include tea and baked goods. Additionally, a plaque will be presented and the travelling exhibit will be on display in the hall. All inquiries about the SWI, events and membership can be answered by President Stephanie Croft (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Collections and Exhibits
Sooke Region Museum