Women's Institutes originated in Canada on 19 February 1897, in a small country centre - Stoney Creek, Ontario - as a direct result of a meeting addressed by Mrs Adelaide Hoodless. They grew and spread with astonishing rapidity, being also fostered by an enlightened Government.
In 1915, the Agricultural Organisation Society, under the Ministry of Agriculture, invited Mrs Alfred Watt to come from Canada to start the movement in England. The first Institute in Great Britain was started that year in Llanfair PG in Wales. In Scotland the movement (Scottish Women's Rural Institutes) is no less popular and widespread.
The idea of Women's Institutes was first introduced to New Zealand by Miss Ann Elizabeth Jerome Spencer on her return from war work in England, where she had seen the work of the organisation.
On 7 February 1921, in conjunction with Mrs Francis Hutchinson, Miss Spencer formed the Rissington Women's Institute, Hawkes Bay; the first in New Zealand. Her hopes were fully realised as the movement spread quickly throughout the country. The first meeting was 21 February.
This Institute went into recess in March, 1988.
In 1926, the first South Island Institute was formed at Waituna, South Canterbury.
At this time, too, Federations were being formed, the first being Hawkes Bay on October 27, 1925. Auckland followed in September 1927 and the Wellington Federation a year later in 1928.
The first Dominion Conference was held in Wellington on the 1 and 2 October 1930. At this Conference it was unanimously decided that a Dominion Federation be constituted and formed.
At the 1932 Conference the official name of the organisation became The Dominion Federation of Women's Institutes (Inc). This name remained unchanged until 1952 when the name was changed to the Dominion Federation of Country Women's Institutes. Again in 1985 another name change, dropping the word 'Dominion' the organisation became officially known as The New Zealand Federation of Country Women's Institutes (Inc).
It is interesting to note that, whereas Institutes in other countries have received financial assistance from their Governments, the movement in New Zealand has been built up to its present strong position solely by the endeavours of the members themselves - a request in 1927 for government assistance being refused.
Miss Ann Elizabeth Jerome Spencer, founder of New Zealand Women's Institutes, was awarded the OBE in 1937.
On 30 March 1950, a building suitable for use as Dominion Headquarters, Wellington, was purchased. In 1955 some accommodation was available, but in 1959 extensive alterations improved accommodation and Dominion Headquarters was named Jerome Spencer House, as a memorial to the founder, Miss Ann Elizabeth Jerome Spencer OBE.
February 1984 saw the opening of a refurbished Jerome Spencer House by the Hon J McLay. These extensive improvements and extensions, opened debt free, were made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of Country Women's Institute members.
At Conference July 1988 a sterling silver Presidential Chain of Office was presented by Mrs Reka Leask.
In 1998 the Mealing Room was refurbished to become the office of the National Secretary/Treasurer.
At the 2004 Conference the official name of the organisation became The New Zealand Federation of Women's Institutes Incorporated.
In November 2006 Jerome Spencer House at 1 Collina Terrace was sold. Over the following year many of the chattels required for accommodation and living arrangements were sold after the decision was made not to provide an accommodation facility.
In November 2007 a newly built property was purchased at Level 12 / 1, 156 Willis Street, Wellington to house the national office. This new office accommodation on the 12th floor of a property in Willis Street has two offices, a large board room with kitchen facilities and a storage room for souvenirs and archived papers.