Our wonderful organisation has been developed over more than a century of change in Scotland, and now we are all keepers of this important legacy.

Originally founded by forward-thinking women to provide opportunities for learning, finding friends, and sharing skills, our current member activities build on our rich heritage of women supporting women.

Each one of us helps shape our rich history.

You can get involved with the SWI Heritage Project and ensure that Scottish rural women's contributions to society are honoured and celebrated for years to come. Find out more here

Who we are

We are women supporting women to live their best lives by experiencing lifelong learning, fun and lasting friendships.

All women in Scotland are welcome to join the SWI, an internationally recognised and well-respected membership organisation which was created by women, for women.

With a rich history in each of Scotland’s communities, the SWI continues to promote education and connects women locally and nationally to improve their quality of life through friendship, education, sharing skills and experiences and having fun. Now, with 500 groups around the country, we are proud to bring together more than 10,000 women across the length and breadth of Scotland.

We celebrate our traditional Scottish heritage and crafting techniques and embrace new adventures, offering everything from knitting and baking to walking weekends and wild swims… with a bit of gin tasting and belly dancing in the mix too! While lifelong learning is at the heart of everything we do, lasting friendships and improved confidence are often wonderful results!

We are women supporting women to live their best lives, so dive in and see what you can do…                     

Read our latest magazine here...


Our Founder

Our founder Catherine Blair was passionate about women's rights. A Scottish suffragette, she was an avid campaigner and spokeswoman for rural women, and was dedicated to doing "all in her power" to further the interest of women.

A law-abiding woman – who would go on to be a magistrate in later life – Catherine supported the fight for women to have the vote. When the so-called Cat and Mouse Act of 1913 saw suffragettes who had gone on hunger strike while imprisoned for their activities released when their health failed, Catherine nursed them back to strength and sheltered them on her farm so they escaped recapture. This made a huge contribution to societal reform.

Being a skilled potter, Catherine also founded the Mak'Merry pottery studio in MacMerry, East Lothian, where socially isolated farm women in the area could meet to learn new skills, make friends and produce items which offered them their own income. The was the blueprint for the first Women’s Institute which she formed in Scotland in Longniddry, East Lothian in 1917.

Changing the Future Together 

The SWI is stitched across the whole of the rich fabric of Scotland's modern history. Members have played their part supporting communities in the aftermath of two world wars, and continue to do so in the light of conflicts in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. Now, more than ever, it is important that we share our skills and knowledge of thrifty living, reusing and recycling to best effect and continue to be a beacon of friendship in our communities.

We also have many nationally important and precious artefacts in our care, so it is vital that these are protected and preserved for future generations. These items are being carefully archived through the Heritage project – and with members' help, we aim to inspire future generations.

Many members also retain Heritage crafting skills – the likes of lace making, Ayrshire embroidery, Gansey knitting and Sanquhar gloves – which may be lost to future generations, To ensure that these are not lost the organisation has an ambitious vision for the future: a Heritage Centre will provide a place for learning, sharing skills and celebrating SWI's rich heritage.

Changing the future together: SWI Strategic Plan 2024-26 here.