Lady Evelyn Suffield

Evelyn Suffield

First and last President of The Norfolk Federation of WIs
Norfolk Federation President 1919-1947
Norfolk Federation Chairman 1925-1945

There is nothing I care more for than the Women’s Institute. The more Institutes I visit the more I realise what a happy family we are’ (Lady Evelyn Suffield, Norfolk supplement to Home & Country) 

Photographed Christmas 1926

The early leaders of the WI movement were described as having outstanding talents, women of character and distinctive mind. Evelyn Suffield can certainly be included in this accolade.

Evelyn Louisa Wilson-Patten was born in London in 1870 and baptised in Westminster Abbey. She was the daughter of Capt. Hon. Eustace Wilson- Patten and Emily Constantia Taylor.

In 1896 Evelyn married Charles Harbord, 6thBaron Suffield, army officer and politician. The Morning Post reported: The bride wore a gown of the richest, ivory satin, with collar of Brussels lace, and a girdle of orange buds. A wreath of orange blossom and Brussels lace veil were worn. A wedding present of a silver centrepiece was received from the Queen.

Lady Suffield entered public life during the first World War as a member of the Women’s War Agricultural Committee helping to recruit women for the first Women’s Land Army. Through this committee, the Women’s Institute movement in Norfolk was born. Evelyn Suffield, with her outstanding personality, soon became one of the pioneers who guided the movement from small beginnings to the respected organisation that it continues to be in the 21stcentury.

A born leader, Evelyn took an interest in much of the social, and public life of North Norfolk. Described as ‘a large-hearted woman of great intellectual capacity’ she was the first woman to serve as a Norfolk County Counsellor, with a special interest in maternity and child care. Lady Suffield was County Commissioner, Norfolk Girl Guides and sat on innumerable committees including, Cromer & District Hospital and North Walsham High school. It’s hardly surprising then that the Eastern Daily Press reported that Evelyn Suffield was probably the best- known woman of her time in Norfolk.

Lady Suffield was an inspirational, and much-loved County President for nearly thirty years. As a V.C.O (WI Adviser) she travelled around the county lecturing on the WI and Public Health in the Villages. Encouraging members to work with her and with each other, and keen to bridge the class divide, as she described at the time, ‘between the labourer’s wife and the great lady’. Asking members to encourage younger women to join the WI she hoped they would be a little more tolerant if they missed a meeting or two and not be so prim and proper! Otherwise, she warned them, ‘it’ll only be us old ones left’! Known to have a great sense of humour, one member recalled Lady Suffield on a tour of inspection at the first WI Exhibition, on one stall the jam was running over an embroidered tablecloth! ‘Her eye caught sight of this unique mixture, and for the first time we heard that hearty laugh of hers, and we all joined in’!

Lady Suffield retired as the first and last President in March 1948, a resolution was passed that no further president be elected.

Dowager Lady Evelyn Suffield died at home, Harbord House, Cromer, in 1951 in her 81styear. Her two daughters, the Hon. Doris and Lettice Harbord survived her.

‘The amazing development of the movement under her guidance has confounded the prophets who, at its birth, gave it from three to five years life (By 1948 there were 225 institutes in Norfolk with 12000 member) Her wonderful powers of leadership will remain an inspiration for all time to those who loved her, and whose lives were enriched by her friendship’. (Mary L. Burgess, General Secretary, Norfolk Federation)

  • Kim Reynolds (Trustee)
  • Member of Mundesley WI
  • January 2019

To find out more about our founding members, read:

Address by Margaret Collingwood on the occasion of our Centenary Celebration at Norwich Cathedral
Address by Vicki Reynolds on the occasion of our Centenary Celebration at Norwich Cathedral
PHOTOGRAPH, date taken not known. written on reverse "Lady Suffield, Mrs Mahon, Mrs Burton Fanning"

Evelyn Suffield with others


See also Patricia Batty Shaw with more on Barford, Wramplinham & District's History Page

Click here to download the History of Evelyn Suffield House