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FROM THE ARCHIVE: Clashmore first community in Sutherland to establish an SWRI branch

By Ali Morrison

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The small Sutherland community of Clashmore can proudly boast of a historic first.

It was the first place in the county to establish a branch of the Scottish Rural Women’s Institute (SWRI) - now called the Scottish Women’s Institute.

The Highland Archive Centre holds a wealth of records relating to Clashmore SWRI.
The Highland Archive Centre holds a wealth of records relating to Clashmore SWRI.

The ‘Rural’ was a membership organisation which promoted the personal advancement of its members by encouraging education, friendship and Scottish culture.

The Highland Archive Centre holds a wealth of records relating to the Clashmore SWRI including minutes, financial records, report books, correspondence, programmes, notebooks, miscellaneous papers and photographs.

Highlife Highland Logo
Highlife Highland Logo
An SWRI handbook dating back to November 1935.
An SWRI handbook dating back to November 1935.

Clashmore SWRI was founded in 1923 by Louise Whitfield Carnegie, the wife of Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The couple put down roots in Sutherland after purchasing Skibo Castle in 1899.

The institute was initially part of the Ross and Cromarty Federation before the Sutherland Federation was formed in 1928.

The Sutherland Voluntary Federation Committee consisted of eight institutes in Assynt, Brora, Clashmore, Dornoch, Helmsdale and District, Rogart and Rosehall, with the organisation headquarters situated in Edinburgh.

Each institute held monthly meetings with speakers and activities covering topics such as crafts, travel, gardening, cooking and walking.

Clashmore SWRI originally held its meetings in Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, with a temporary transfer to Skibo School in the late 1940s.

The war years hampered many of the SWRI’s activities, the blackout forcing monthly meetings to coincide with moonlit nights.

Members poured their energies and enthusiasm into the war effort, growing food in small gardens and allotments; canning and preserving home-grown produce; knitting for the troops and teaching crafts in camps and hospitals.

Louise Carnegie died in Manhattan, New York, on June 14, 1946.

But her daughter and only child, Margaret Carnegie Miller, was the guest of honour at Clashmore SWRI’s 50th birthday party in Clashmore Hall in September, 1973.

The SWI has suffered a gradual decline in Sutherland in recent years with branches closing due to lack of members. However SWI say new groups are starting across Scotland post-Covid.

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