From time to time over the years since I became a Women’s Institute member, I have taken part in discussion groups and workshops on Communications. Whether it be in our local community or provincially, nationally and internationally we have tried to find better ways of telling who we are and what we do.
We have been hiding our lights, we have been a best-kept secret. We needed to be more effective communicators.
Not too long ago, I was attending church in one of the towns in Pictou County. This was not my regular church, but when I entered the pew I recognized a couple sitting in the pew behind me.
I had only been sitting for a minute or two when the man seated behind me leaned forward and in a relatively loud whisper asked “Are the Women’s Institutes dead?” Slightly startled I turned around and replied “No, what makes you ask that?”
The Service began so it was after the ending of the Service that I could chat with the questioner. He explained that his question was because he never seemed to hear, or read, anything about us.
We are living in a different era. Our radio station is no longer locally owned and operated. Our daily newspaper is gone. We do have a weekly community newspaper that is very supportive, willing to print reports of Women’s Institute activities. We have one dedicated, determined Board member from Cape Breton who has been successful in getting the provincial newspaper to print her submissions about Women’s Institute activities. And I know of a community paper in the Annapolis Valley who will do likewise.
Social Media is now our means of communicating, with websites and Facebook prominently where we as members can get information, but I wonder how many non-members look at those.
It is always interesting to have the opportunity to speak to someone who knows little or nothing about our organization. They are amazed when I tell them that our local community service is not our only involvement, but that we are members of a provincial and national Women’s Institute, and of an international organization of millions of women in eighty countries. Their reaction is “I had no idea”.
There was a time when Women’s Institute meetings, - local, provincial, and national, almost always had someone from the newspapers present. One of their reporters would be sent to cover the meeting. We provided a table for them to sit at to make it easier to take notes. (If they came now, no table would be needed for their smartphones!)
We gave them an agenda and a copy of the Resolutions that were to be discussed. They would usually stay for the entire meeting. They would take pictures, perhaps interview the President and some of the members.
Then, within a day or two, a report of the business transacted and the guest speakers’ presentations would appear in the local paper.
That was then, what about now? I wonder how many of you across Canada can relate to these changes. In 1919, when the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada was organized we became known as “the voice of rural women in Canada”.
One hundred and one years later that voice has become a whisper. Therein lies our challenge.
Ellen McLean has been an active WI member for close to seventy years. Throughout those years, she served in many roles including President of the Women's Institutes of Nova Scotia, President of the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada (FWIC) and President of the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). Testimony to her excellent leadership and service, Ellen received an honorary doctorate degree from St. Francis Xavier University, been inducted to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, received the Order of Canada as well as being the first recipient of the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Women of the Year Award.