Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997

Joint Founders of the Country Women's Institute in New Zealand were Mrs A E Jerome Spencer O.B.E. and Mrs Francis Hutchinson.

During the First World War the women of Rissington (Hawkes Bay) met together regularly and carried out Red Cross work. Mrs Spencer and Mrs Hutchinson discussed the loss that would be felt by these women when the Red Cross work ended and expressed the wish that some society could be organised in their neighbourhood to continue the spirit of fellowship and co-operation that had grown out of the needs of the War. At the end of 1916, Mrs Spencer went to England to do war work and one day, in 1918, in Westminster, she noticed a large placard outside the Caxton Hall announcing within a display of Women's Institute Handicrafts. Attracted by the words women's and handicrafts, but totally ignorant of the implication of the word institute, she went in and found the answer to their community's needs. A chance meeting later on with an ardent president of a County Federation, and a visit to Headquarters in London, supplied her with enthusiasm and the necessary information and literature. On her return to New Zealand at the end of 1919 discussions were held with Mrs Hutchinson and in February 1921 at a little meeting on the verandah of her home, the Rissington Women's Institute was launched.

The second branch was established in Norsewood and the third branch at Otawhao. When there were eight scattered branches the Hawkes Bay Federation was formed. The second Federation was formed in Auckland (with four branches). The organisation rapidly extended throughout the country and in due course the organisation was structurally completed by the formation of the Dominion Federation.

In November 1994 the Thames-Hauraki Plains District Federation celebrated its 50th Jubilee (see Journal No. 39) and the 75th Anniversary of the Country Women's Institute was celebrated by the local Federation in Thames on 9 September 1995. The celebrations included a parade featuring vintage cars and a special 75th Anniversary Banner. The banner was launched in Whangarei in August 1995 and then travelled throughout the country, finishing at the National Conference at Wellington in July 1996.

In 1939 a book entitled TALES OF PIONEER WOMEN, edited by A E Woodhouse of Timaru, was published by Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., for the Dominion Federation. It was a collection of pioneer tales submitted by members throughout the country and dedicated To the Memory of the Gallant Pioneer Wives and Mothers Who, By Their Faith, Steadfast Courage, and Love, Made Possible the Colonisation of New Zealand.

The following story, entitled A Hauraki Bride was submitted by E G Bond:-

"In the early days the Hauraki Plains were covered with high bush, and instead of roads there were only rough tracks, all slush, mud and ruts. We often laugh when we recall the old-fashioned mode of travelling, and have many times told our younger folk this tale of the poor little bride.

About 30 years ago, a settler called Peat had brought his little bride from Christchurch to live near Piako, on his farm, which was about two miles off the main road, and as he did not want her to feel completely isolated, he decided one evening, when the moon was quite young, to take her to call on a neighbour who lived about ten miles away. Well, that meant travelling on a sledge.

They got ready, the bride wore her wedding dress, and the young husband got out the sledge, his only vehicle, and carefully nailed a box on to it, with a piece of corrugated iron fastened lengthwise in front of it.

They gaily set off, the young husband standing behind the piece of iron, holding the reins, the bride in the box behind him, and arrived without mishap at the friends' house. They had a good evening, and set out on their homeward journey. All of a sudden, Bump! Over went the box, bride, and wedding dress, into the slush and mud.

It was a long time before that bride again ventured out on the sledge.

Now, however, she can tell the tale with a laugh, for she often passes the same scenes today, driving in her son's beautiful car along smooth roads.

One of the bride's neighbours, Mrs Gray, had a somewhat similar experience when returning with her baby from the nursing home at Thames. She made the first part of the journey by train, travelled some distance up the river by launch, transhipped into a small rowing boat, and landed to find waiting on the bank the best carriage that her husband could procure - a sledge with a box attached. She got into it with her baby, and they were doing famously, when the husband called, "Hold on tight, mother," and then looked behind.

The box, with mother and babe still sitting in it, had slipped off the sledge, and was some yards away.

What a home coming!

These two ladies, neighbours in pioneering times, are great friends today, and are both still living on the Hauraki Plains."

The following story illustrates the isolation from medical help that many pioneering people experienced. Often it would take a man on a good horse several hours to reach a doctor and then return with him. Many settlers kept a book entitled What to do Until the Doctor Comes. The following story, contributed by C M White, relates an occasion when the book was of no use to her:-

I was then a young girl of about fifteen, and had been left in charge of the family while my father and mother went away for a short trip. One day I was busily doing the washing for twelve folks, when I heard a voice call out,

"Quick, come here; Ella has been eating tutu berries and I think she is dying."

I rushed to the door just in time to see my young sister fall on the ground in convulsions. I picked her up and put her into a bath of hot soap suds, I tried to make her sick by tickling her throat with a long feather, but she became quite unconscious. Then I remembered that when a calf was in that condition, from the same cause, we always bled it by cutting one of its ears. I got a sharp knife and was just going to cut off her right ear, when the thought came to me that perhaps the left ear would be nearer her heart and would bleed more. I turned her over on to her right side; she suddenly vomited. I knew that would save her, so her ear was not cut off. A large dose of Epsom Salts soon put her right again.

My sister has often told me since, that she would never have forgiven me had I cut her ear off. Yet, I was doing the only thing I knew of to save her life. I had never heard of a human eating tutu, for everyone in the district knew that it was a deadly poison, and had had experience of its effect upon calves. Nearly everyone, too, had rendered first aid to animals exactly as I proposed to render to my sister."