Focus: Communications - Three minutes with... Charlotte Dew, project co-ordinator, Women's Library

What is the exhibition you are launching?

It's a touring exhibition that will tell the story of the Women's Institute, using material from its archives. The exhibition will be launched in Reading in May, before moving on to York and Newport.

It's being funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, which was keen for us to encourage the involvement of WI members in the local areas where it is touring. They have created their own interpretations of its history, which will be shown alongside material from the archives.

How did the exhibition come about?

The National Federation of Women's Institutes gave us its archive in order to safeguard its future and ensure public access. It proved to be a really interesting document about the lives of women, particularly in rural areas. It showed a side to the WI that not many people know about.

What kind of things does it show?

The WI has always campaigned and lobbied for change and was behind the well-known Keep Britain Tidy campaign. It also helped to educate women in rural areas and encouraged them to take part in active citizenship by, for example, becoming councillors.

Before that, the WI was instrumental in improving access to water and sanitation in rural areas. It was one of the first organisations to campaign for regular screenings to prevent breast cancer in women, and it has called for a greater awareness of testicular cancer - it doesn't focus only on women's issues.

Why don't people know about this side of the WI?

Once the media gets hold of a certain idea, you get a reputation for doing one particular thing. The WI was best-known for preserving fruit and making jams in the Second World War, and is still today. But I think things are changing - we hope the exhibition will go some way towards addressing those misconceptions.

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