South Canterbury women's group celebrates 90 years

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South Canterbury Federation of Women’s Institutes president Margaret Younger stands with a board at Timaru Library celebrating 90 years of the organisation.

Bejon Haswell/Stuff

South Canterbury Federation of Women’s Institutes president Margaret Younger stands with a board at Timaru Library celebrating 90 years of the organisation.

A women’s collective with the mantra to “go where the need is” will celebrate a milestone birthday this weekend.

The South Canterbury Federation of Women’s Institutes, which includes the Claremont and Pleasant Point Combined branches, will mark its 90th birthday with a luncheon on Sunday – a week after the national body celebrated its centenary in Napier.

“It’s changed over the years, but it still retains the same values,” South Canterbury Federation president Margaret Younger said.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of people getting together and chatting.”

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Younger said among the regional group’s charitable acts was knitting for premature babies at Timaru Hospital, baking more than 200 Christmas cakes for those displaced by the Kaikōura earthquake in 2016, and emulating the Calendar Girls plot to raise money for the Cancer Society.

“When the need is there, so are we.”

The region’s federated group was formed on June 13, 1930, when representatives from the Gapes Valley, Arundel, Orari, and Woodbury divisions gathered at the Parish Hall in Geraldine to discuss merging into a big organisation.

At the time, women’s institutes had spread to 40 countries with more than 100 in New Zealand.

Younger, who joined the Claremont chapter in 1973, said the group remained as “friendly and supportive” as when she first got on board.

“It was a way of meeting the women of the district,” she said.

“It’s a worldwide organisation. A woman who helped bake Christmas cakes said she was doing it because her mother belonged to an institute in South Africa.”

South Canterbury Federation secretary Anne O’Connell said her involvement with the organisation began in Hunter, near Waimate, 62 years ago.

South Canterbury Federation secretary Anne O’Connell has been involved with Women's Institute for 62 years and counting.

Bejon Haswell/Stuff

South Canterbury Federation secretary Anne O’Connell has been involved with Women’s Institute for 62 years and counting.

“I’ve met a lot of wonderful women around New Zealand who I consider to be friends,” O’Connell said.

“I find there is a very strong bond between members, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I just get this wonderful feeling that all these women in one place are there for the same reason and same goal.

“One of the main things I learned was being able to get up and speak in public.”

When she moved to Timaru after her husband’s death in 1988, the South Canterbury federation was made up of 25 women’s institutes. Now, there were two.

“We have 17 members. It’s very sad, but there’s no young ones coming through to take over,” she said.

“Personally, I will be with it through thick and thin.

“I’ve really got a lot out of it over the years and wouldn’t like to see it go.”

South Canterbury maintained a close relationship with the Waimate, North Canterbury, and North Otago federations which encompassed 20 women’s institutes.

“We’re all invited to each other’s activities.

“It’s good to see what these other federations are doing because you get ideas.”

O’Connell echoed Younger’s sentiment that women’s institutes “go where the need is”.

“I feel each association do a lot of good in the community and do different things.”

The federation will celebrate 90 years with a luncheon at the Grey Way Lounge at Phar Lap Raceway on Pleasant Point Highway/SH8, from 11.30am on Sunday. National president Fay Leonard will attend.

The Women’s Institute was first established in Canada in 1886, and imported to Britain in 1915.

The movement arrived in New Zealand in 1921.

Jerome Spencer, a former Napier Girls’ High School principal, had been driven to establish a group in her hometown after attending a Women’s Institute craft exhibition during her voluntary war service in London in 1919.

The national federation had donated groceries, dolls, emergency toilet bags, and thousands of dollars to causes around the country during its century in operation, including supporting a $15,000 medical research scholarship every two years.

The national body marked 100 years with a weekend of activities in Napier from February 19 to 21.

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