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Centenary Celebrations 2020 SI Bristol book: An Historical Account of how the Club Developed

Conception of the Bristol Club (14th May 2020)

                        Clifton High School

The following information has been extracted from the SI Bristol’s history book (100 Years of Sisterhood), which is currently going through the process of publication. As the Club begins to celebrate its centenary, it reminds us about what we are celebrating.

In 1919, in part due to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, women were finally allowed to obtain a higher education and qualify in a profession or business. Therefore, for the first time, middle-class women were brought into public life. Although the number of women eligible to join a Classification Club was small, there were women in Bristol who held executive positions and the time was ripe to form a club for women.

The concept of forming a Classification Club in Bristol can be traced to a paragraph published in the Bristol Times and Mirror by Miss Ethel Parr on 17th April 1920:

“It has been rather unkindly said that Bristol is slow in accepting new ideas and still slower in adopting them. Nevertheless, the local branch of the Rotary Club flourished from the first. Therefore, why should not women follow the admirable example set by their male relations and friends and start a club on Rotary principles, or join a club already in existence run on those lines? In case members of my sex are not aware of the rules governing membership in Rotary, I may mention that it is only allowed to one member of any one trade or profession. The indefatigable honorary secretary of the Rotary Club of Bristol to whom I am indebted for all information on the subject, suggests that after the women’s club has been started and members have been drawn from the obvious professional and working women, such as lady doctors, nurses, school teachers, journalists, etc, the rest of the classifications might be held by women doing social work in an honorary capacity. It seems an excellent idea and one that might be adopted with advantage. Is there anyone who would like to undertake the initial work of starting the club?”

When Miss Parr met with the Secretary of the Rotary Club of Bristol, Mr Stanley Hill, he told her that “although Rotary did not admit women, its members would like to help start a club for women run on similar lines to Rotary, on the condition it was called by another name”. He suggested “that Miss Eleanor Addison Phillips, Head Mistress of Clifton High School, should be asked to found the Club and become its first President because she had made a great impression on the Rotary Club members by giving a brilliant speech at one of our lunch meetings”. Rotarians stated “that a Club to draw women together would be an interesting experiment”. This was farsighted for men of the time, especially as they had only been founded in 1917.

On 30th April 1920, Mr Stanley Hill sent a letter inviting selected women, well known in business and professional circles in Bristol, to tea at the Royal Hotel on College Green on 10th May 1920.

Dear Madam,

It has been suggested that a ladies’ club somewhat on the lines of Rotary might be started in this city, and a preliminary meeting to discuss the matter will be held at the Royal Hotel, College Green, at 5 o’clock in the evening of May 10th 1920, when Miss Addison Phillips, MA has kindly consented to take the chair.

The President of the Rotary Club of Bristol (Mr Walter T Pearce) will explain the movement, and I shall be pleased to answer any questions and to give the benefit of my experience should it be decided to inaugurate a ladies’ club.

Afternoon tea will be served at 5 o’clock and a post card reply as to whether it is your intention to be present or not will be very much esteemed.

Yours faithfully,

Eighteen women attended the tea in the grandiose Palm Court Lounge at the Royal Hotel (now the Marriott Royal Hotel) on College Green. Miss Phillips duly chaired the meeting. Mr Hill explained the movement as it applied to men, and suggested “that a club for women would be of value not only to the participating women themselves but also to the social life of the city”. The idea of forming a club was received with enthusiasm and, by a unanimous vote, Miss Phillips was voted to be President.

                          Miss Phillips 1929

Just a week later, Miss Phillips held a meeting at the Clifton High School with five of the women. They laid the groundwork for the Constitution and By-Laws anddecided to call the new Club the Venture Club. The name ‘Venture’ was adopted to embody of the spirit of the Club, which was to be, predominantly, a Service Club run on the Rotary Classification Principle. Thus, one of the world’s first, if not the first, Classification Club for women was established.

Despite her somewhat severe persona in official photographs, Miss Phillips was a fun-loving lady and highly regarded by her students. This photograph shows her laughing with her 6th Form Class of 1929-1930.  The first few meetings to establish the Club were held at Clifton High School where Miss Phillips was Head Teacher.




The information presented below has been extracted from the SI Bristol Centenary Book, which is in preparation.

In the Beginning the Word was Venture (17th July 2019)
World War I (WWI) had a major impact on the lives of women. During the war, women had, albeit by necessity, performed jobs that had been previously performed only by men and thereby proved their worth. They worked in hospitals, transport, industry, munitions factories, the women’s volunteer police force and auxiliary services. Post WWI, realizing their worth, women were ready to do more meaningful activities. After WWI many more women obtained a higher education and qualified in a profession or business. In 1919, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act became law, enabling woman to become solicitors, barristers and magistrates, and to enter learned societies.
Although Classification Clubs for professional and business men started in the United States of America in 1905 under the name of Rotary International, it was not until 1917 that the Rotary Club of Bristol was formed. Although it was realised that the number of women eligible to join a Classification Club was small, there were, in Bristol, women who held executive positions. The time was ripe to form a Club for women; it was deemed that a Club to draw women together “would be an interesting experiment”.

Formation of a Women’s Classification Club in Bristol
Miss Ethel Parr, a well-connected and forward-thinking Bristolian journalist, published a paragraph in the ‘Barbara’s Budget’ social column. The following is the complete transcription that was published in the 17th April 1920 edition of the Bristol Times and Mirror:
“It has been rather unkindly said that Bristol is slow in accepting new ideas and still slower in adopting them. Nevertheless, the local branch of the Rotary Club flourished from the first. Therefore, why should not women follow the admirable example set by their male relations and friends and start a club on Rotary principles, or join a club already in existence run on those lines? In case members of my sex are not aware of the rules governing membership in Rotary, I may mention that it is only allowed to one member of any one trade or profession. The indefatigable honorary secretary of the Rotary Club of Bristol to whom I am indebted for all information on the subject, suggests that after the women’s club has been started and members have been drawn from the obvious professional and working women, such as lady doctors, nurses, school teachers, journalists etc., the rest of the classifications might be held by women doing social work in an honorary capacity. It seems an excellent idea and one that might be adopted with advantage. Is there any one who would like to undertake the initial work of starting the club?”

Miss Parr met with the Secretary of the Bristol Rotary Club, Mr Stanley Hill. He told her that “although Rotary did not admit women, its members would like to help start a club for women run on similar lines to Rotary, on the condition it was called by another name”. Mr Hill suggested “that Miss Eleanor Addison Phillips, Head Mistress of Clifton High School, should be asked to found the Club and become its first President because she “had made a great impression on the Rotary Club members by giving a brilliant speech at one of our lunch meetings”. A report describing the impact of Miss Phillips’ speech appeared in the Bristol Times and Mirror on 27th March 1920, also in the Barbara’s Budget column. The transcription below illustrates the patronising view at that time regarding female speakers:
“Last Monday the Bristol Rotary club had the good fortune to hear Miss E Addison Phillips give an address on “Fathers and Daughters” to the members. In thanking her for the very able way in which she had dealt with the subject, Mr Waterfall said that the three women speakers who had addressed the club had been in the very first rank of their speakers. The remark raises a point once suggested to me by a woman who was an excellent speaker herself and had studied the subject a great deal. “There are no bad speakers in our sex,” she said, then added, laughing at my incredulous expression: “The reason is that you cannot induce a woman to open her mouth in public unless she happens to be a good speaker. The others are far too nervous, and are too keenly aware of their shortcomings to fall into the error, common to man, of trying to make a speech when they have no gift in that direction. “Experience is beginning to impress me with the truth of her remark. As a rule, a woman is not called upon to speak unless she has some qualifications for the part, whereas poor man is hauled to his feet on many occasions, festal, political, and social and is suddenly asked to make a speech. The result is sometimes rather painful, though the speakers to a much greater degree than the audience.”

Two weeks after Ethel Parr’s paragraph was published, Mr Hill sent a letter inviting selected women, who were well known in business and professional circles in Bristol, to tea at the Royal Hotel. His letter, dated 30th April 1920, stated:
“Dear Madam,
It has been suggested that a ladies club somewhat on the lines of Rotary might be started in this city, and a preliminary meeting to discuss the matter will be held at the Royal Hotel, College Green, at 5 o’clock in the evening of May 10th 1920, when Miss Addison Phillips, M.A. has kindly consented to take the chair.
The President of the Rotary Club of Bristol (Mr. Walter T. Pearce) will explain the movement, and I shall be pleased to answer any questions and to give the benefit of my experience should it be decided to inaugurate a ladies club.
Afternoon tea will be served at 5 o’clock and a post card reply as to whether it is your intention to be present or not will be very much esteemed. Yours faithfully,”

Eighteen women attended the tea in the grandiose Palm Court Lounge at the Royal Hotel (now the Marriott Royal Hotel) on College Green in Bristol. Mr Hill explained the movement as it applied to men, and suggested “that a club for women would be of value not only to the participating women themselves but also to the social life of the city”. The proposal was supported by Walter Pearce who was the current Rotary President. The idea of forming a club was received with enthusiasm by the women who all agreed to join the club and that they should meet on a regular basis. By a unanimous vote, Miss Phillips was asked to be President. The Rotary Club of Bristol was the “founder organisation” of the women’s Club. These original 18 women played key roles in the early days of the Club.

Miss Eleanor Addison Phillips, MA (1874-1952), was Headmistress of Clifton High School (1908 to 1933). She “had a close rapport with her pupils and is remembered as an inspiring teacher, a stimulating Headmistress, a vivacious and able speaker, with a wit and appreciation of the value of parties and entertainments had been a constant delight to her pupils”. Clearly she was a special person with many talents. Her attributes proved to be invaluable during the formation of the woman’s club in Bristol, the formation of the Association of Venture Clubs, and the subsequent amalgamation with the Soroptimism movement.

Just a week after the tea Miss Phillips held a meeting at Clifton High School with Misses Deane, Hill, Palurel, Parr, and Strachey. They decided to call the Club the Bristol Venture Club. The name ‘Venture’ was adopted as being descriptive of the spirit of the Club, which was to be, predominantly, a Service Club run on Rotary’s Classification Principle. Thus, one of the world’s first, if not the first, Classification Club for women was established. A draft of the Constitution and By-Laws was read by Miss Phillips and “after discussion and some alterations, it was unanimously decided to adopt the draft”. By any standard, this is impressive. The names of ten women who were deemed worthy of an invitation “to join if they wished to do so” were put forward. The Secretary was to write the letters, which were signed by the President.
The Constitution stated that membership was open to any woman who was:
1. “engaged as proprietor, partner, company director or manager in full charge of any legitimate business or profession in the Bristol district; provided always that the Classification was not already represented in the Club.
2. engaged in any definite social or philanthropic work in an honorary capacity, on the understanding that such Classifications shall never exceed fifty percent of the classification in existence under 1.”
The ‘Objects’ of the Club, as written in the Constitution of the Bristol Venture Club, were:
1. “To encourage high ethical standards in business and professions.
2. To increase the efficiency of each Member by the exchange of ideas and business methods.
3. To stimulate the desire of each Member to be of service to her fellows.
4. To quicken the interest of each Member in the public welfare, and to co-operate with others in civic, social, and industrial development.”

On 6th July 1920, the Bristol Venture Club again met at Clifton High School.
Ten new members were elected, bringing the total membership to 49. The Council passed a resolution “authorising a bank account to be opened at Messrs Barclays Bank Ltd., 40 Corn Street, Bristol. All cheques to be duly signed by President and Secretary”.

Miss Phillips was unanimously elected President for the ensuing year, Miss Deane and Miss Sadler Vice-Presidents, and the Council elected consisted of Miss Baron, Miss Brownlee, Miss Bonville Fox, Miss Palmer, Miss Parr and Miss E.H. Smith. Miss Strachey and Mrs A.M. Hill were elected to the offices of, respectively, Secretary and Honorary Treasurer.

Miss Cynthia Methven Brownlee generously offered, pro bono, the use of her Photographic Studio in 18 Charlotte Street, off Park Street, for the weekly meetings. She also offered use of her tables, chairs, crockery and gas. The studio was large enough to hold 50 people. “The studio is an ideal place for meetings, as the surroundings are wholly artistic and possess a personality and charm rarely found in any room where public meetings can be held. Hence the gratitude which the members feel towards Miss Brownlee for her kindness in lending her photographic studio to the Club for the first year, oblivious of the trouble necessarily caused by the influx of a large number of visitors every week.”

At this July 1920 meeting it was agreed to hold the first general meeting of the Venture Club on Monday 27th September at 5:30pm in Miss Brownlee’s Studio. Members of the Bristol Venture Club had to be at the top of her business or profession, and not retired. At all meetings they were required to wear a hat, gloves, and their ivorine name badge. The title of ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ was always used; never the given name. The majority of members were ’Miss’ mainly because once married, women could not hold certain jobs or they resigned from their jobs and ‘housewife’ was not an allowed Classification.

On 27th September 1920, the first of the weekly meetings duly commenced. In her handwritten President’s report at the end of her 1920-21 term, Miss Phillips reflected that “Laughter, enthusiasm and good 

ellowship are my most vivid recollections of our first meetings in Miss Brownlee’s Studio. The original members will remember the happy atmosphere which prevailed from the start, the crowded room, delicious teas and inspiring and interesting speakers which made us feel that membership was going to mean many friendships and a better understanding of women’s careers in many fields.”

On 29th November 1920 a stirring speech was given by a keen Rotarian, Mr Harold Norton Matthews entitled “Looking Further”. So inspired were attendees that they chose these words as their Club motto. Speakers at the early Bristol Venture Club meetings were frequently Rotarians; thereby starting a tradition (that continues today) whereby the Rotary President annually talks to the Venture Club.

During the first year, membership of the Club increased rapidly. In July 1920 there were eight members, in August 39 women joined, and during September and October 58 more joined the Club. By the end of the first Club year (April 1921), membership had increased to 114. During the year, thirty-two meetings were held, at which talks were given on a wide range of topics, for example: ‘Stated the criminal’, ‘Industrial unrest’, ‘Women and the future’, ‘Anesthesia’, ‘Racial reconstruction’, and ‘Facing both ways’.

Articles about the Venture Club published in the Rotarian Newsletter ‘The Gear box’ were accredited, not to the author, but to “A VENTURER”. One article drew a parallel between the Venturers and ships that left Bristol “… a new ship was launched by the feminine venturers of Bristol. The modern woman is nothing if not adventurous, and she has in this old city an example of many brave spirits who in the past set sail with far less encouragement on perilous voyages, and managed to accomplish the object of their journey”.


Bristol Venture Club – The First Decade (28th July 2019)

Towards the end of the first year of the Venture Club, the first Presidents’ Reception was held in the dining hall at Clifton High School. During the first year, much time had been spent in writing the Constitution and Bye-Laws. Minutes of the 24th June 1921 Council meeting state it was agreed: (i) “to form a Service Committee with an independent chairwoman, (ii) that collecting boxes be on tea tables but that members should only contribute if they wished to do so, (iii) that no more than six visitors be admitted at a time to any meeting, and (iv) no visitor to be allowed more than twice during a session.” At the first Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 28th June 1921, Miss Augusta Deane was elected as the second President and a Service Committee was appointed to focus on aspects of service to needy people and to raise funds.

The first Venture Club emblem was designed as a simple cross within a double circle that
incorporated the name ‘Venture’ and the motto ‘Looking Further’.

During the second year, the Service Committee started the “Little Sisters” scheme, where Bristol Venture Club members befriended motherless girls. Volunteer Club members (called Big Sisters) each ‘adopted’ one to three girls aged from 9 to 17 years (called Little Sisters). The “Little Sisters” scheme was so successful it was run for 15 years.

During 1924, a formal induction of new members into the Club was introduced. Also, the Club joined the League of Nations Union (a forerunner to the United Nations) and Mrs Rogers was assigned to be the Representative. Beginning in 1927, she was given ten minutes trice a year to inform members about matters regarding the League of Nations.

In July 1925, Stanley Hill of the Rotary Club invited the Bristol Venture Club to meet in their newly acquired Rotary House. Minutes of a Venture Club meeting documents “Having enjoyed, for several years, the hospitality of Miss Brownlee’s very attractive studio, now felt obliged to accept the invitation of the Rotary Club to use their House as the new headquarters; these premises permitted extension of membership and other developments”. On 28th September 1925, the Bristol Venture Club relocated their meeting venue to Rotary House.

In 1925, badges for the President and the Immediate Past President were obtained. Miss Phyllis Hughes-Garbett (professionally known as Carmen Pedro) designed both badges. The President’s badge (left) incorporated a large “V” for Venture, the motto “Looking Further” and a cross representing the four points of the compass. The original insignia was made in 1925 without the “SOROPTIMIST CLUB”, which was added in the 1930s.

The Immediate Past President’s badge (right) design includes elements of the Bristol Coat of Arms and laurel leaves. From ancient times, laurel leaves symbolise victory and it is interesting that this symbolism was used without knowledge of the insignia designed by the first Soroptimist Club! It also features points of the compass, ‘VENTURE’ and ‘LOOKING FURTHER’.

Also in 1925, it was agreed that the Club would provide individual badges for each Past President to keep and wear at any official event, including Regional and Federation meetings. The design was based on the President’s badge (left below) and the name of the Past President was engraved on the back of the badge.

During its first four years, members were busy with various aspects of establishing the Club, which precluded them focusing on expanding the Venture movement. Thus, it was not until 1925 that a

daughter Club was formed in Bath. Following on from the success in Bath, three other Venture Clubs were formed in quick succession in 1925: SW London, Central London and Croydon. On 14th November 1927, Captain Holloway from the Halifax Rotary Club contacted Bristol regarding formation of a Venture Club in Halifax. The Halifax Venture Club was founded in April 1928, making a total of six Venture Clubs.

Between 1925 and 1930, the Service Committee Minutes documented that Club members organised whist drives, dinners, bridge drives, dances, fètes, tennis tournaments, general knowledge quizzes, social evenings, theatrical parties, supper with impromptu charades, sale of ice cream, bring and buy sales, put-and-take sales, and afternoon teas. Money raised was used to establish the Club’s Benevolent and Charitable Funds. The Finance and Social Committee organised Children’s parties, social evenings, summer outings, President’s receptions, a Bridge Drive and took part in a Careers Advisory scheme. Members on this committee visited sick members.

With the existence of six Venture Clubs, the notion of forming an Association was put forward. On 5th May 1927, representatives from Central London Club [9 members], Bristol Club [2 members], South West London Club [8 members] and Croydon [1 member] Venture Clubs met in Bristol. Bath and Halifax Venture Clubs were unable to send a representative. The Association of Venture Clubs was formed with Miss Philips as the President, Miss Kingdom as the Honorary Secretary, a Board of Directors, Officers and a Council. The original Certificate for Bristol is in the Bristol Archives and reads: “This certifies that the Venture Club of BristolGloucester County having duly organised and having agreed through its officers and members to be bound by the Constitution and Bye-Laws of the Association of Venture Clubs, which agreement is evidenced by the acceptance of this certificate, is now a duly elected member of the Association of Venture Clubs, Club No 1 and is certified to all rights and privileges of such membership.” It has a wax seal and was signed by Eleanor Addison Phillips, President and ME Kingdom, Secretary”

The first conference of the Association of Venture Clubs was held in Bristol from 22nd to 24th June 1928. Members of the six extant Clubs (Bristol, Bath, Central London, SW London, Croydon, and Halifax) attended and Miss Phillips presided. A badge of office for the President of the Association of Venture Clubs was made and this actual badge is now on display in No 63 Bayswater Road (more information about this badge will be given in a subsequent article).  In 1929, the second Conference of the Association was held in Bath and at this AGM it was agreed that “each Club have one representative on the Board until the number of Clubs reaches 12”.

On 30th September 1929, the Council of the Association of Venture Clubs voted that “there should be a uniform date for election of Officers of every Club and that annually there should be a leaflet giving names of Officers as well as day, place and time of meetings”. They also proposed a uniform procedure for the Induction of new members: “It is my privilege as President of the __________ Club to welcome you as a member. Your duties as a Venturer should be – service to your fellow beings, a high ethical standard of business, and regular attendance at meetings. You have nothing to expect of Venture in the way of personal gain – you can only get out of Venture what you put into it. I now offer you the right hand of friendship which signifies your entry into the local Club, and links you with Venturers everywhere. Fellow Venturers, I commend to you our new member who represents ______________ and charge you not to fail in your duty towards her.”


Other Women’s Clubs and lead up to Amalgamation of Venture and Soroptimist Clubs (posted 30th July 2019)

Other Women’s Service Clubs

Before telling about the amalgamation of Venture and Soroptimist Clubs, at is worth briefly mentioning other women’s service clubs. It was not just in England that, following WWI, many women wanted to continue employment and equality. To this end, Quota Club International, Inc. was founded in Buffalo, New York on 6th February, 1919 by Wanda Frey Joiner as a Service Club for women, similar to popular all-male clubs. This was one year before U.S. women were granted their right to vote. The Quota Club became international in 1925 when a club was formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Quota International, Inc. continued to grow in Canada and eventually extended to Australia, New Zealand, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Fiji, Aruba, Curaçao, Saint Eustatius, the Netherlands, and Suriname. Nearly a century later, in 2016, membership exceeded 5,600 (and included both women and men) in more than 270 Clubs in 14 countries. Quota International, Inc. is a non-profit organisation empowering women, children, the deaf, and hard of hearing in local communities around the world.

At least two other women’s Service Clubs were formed prior to 1920. In 1917, ‘Altrusa’ was founded and incorporated as a national organisation in Nashville, Tennessee; later it became international. In November 1919, ‘Zonta International’ was established in Buffalo, New York to advance the status of women and became an alternative to Quota International, Inc. Members in these Clubs were executives in business or professions and, like Venturers and Soroptimists, they sought “to create a worldwide network of service and friendship in order to improve the quality of life for women, with a commitment to high ethical standards.” However our research did not reveal specific criteria for membership in these Clubs or documentation that the Clubs operated under the Classification Principle. Thus, Bristol’s Venture Club differs from these women’s Service Clubs in that it was one of the first, if not the first, Women’s Classification Club.

The First Soroptimist Club

Stuart Morrow, an organiser of men’s service clubs, visited the Parker-Goddard Secretarial School in Oakland, CA where he expected to find a man at its head. Instead, he found that Miss Mabel Parker and Miss Adelaide Goddard owned the school. Realising his mistake, Morrow excused himself but as he was leaving Miss Goddard said she would be interested in joining such a club for women. The consequence of this remark was the formation of a Classification Club for Women – the first Soroptimist Club – on 3rd October 1921. The name ‘Soroptimist’ was coined from the Latin ‘soror’ meaning ‘sister’ and ‘optima’ meaning ‘the best’. The name is often interpreted as ‘best for women’ or ‘best of sisters’. The original insignia was a simple SC in a gold rectangular pin.

The first President of the Alameda County Soroptimist Club was Miss Violet Richardson (later Mrs Violet Richardson Ward), who was a great fighter for equal pay for woman and a pioneer of physical education. Before accepting the Presidency, she made two conditions: “(i) it be a service organization and not simply another social club, and (ii) it be international”. Many members, who had not known each other prior to joining the Soroptimist Club, were inclined toward formality and never used given names. However, Violet asked that they all use given names rather than surnames and to show she was serious suggested there be a fine of $1 for each infraction! The Club met weekly, debating service projects and hearing speakers on various worldwide issues that broadened members’ horizons. Originally the Club was known as the Alameda County Soroptimist Club. In 1928 the name was changed to the Oakland Club, when a second Soroptimist Club (Berkeley) in the same county was formed.

The purpose of Soroptimism was stated “To foster the spirit of service as the basis of all worthy enterprises and to increase the efficiency of its members in the pursuit of their occupations by broadening their interest in the social, business and civic affairs of the community through an association of women representing diverse occupations.” The Objects were: “(i) to promote the objects of Soroptimism throughout the world, and (ii) to co-operate with inter-governmental and other organizations for the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace.”

The first project undertaken by the Alameda County Soroptimist Club was to save the giant, ancient redwood trees in California, which were being felled unmercifully. They lobbied the legislature, took on the powerful logging companies, and won public support that resulted in a major portion of the forest being set aside as protected land, which still exists today.

American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs

During 1922, Soroptimist Clubs had been chartered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC and by 1926 more than a dozen Soroptimist Clubs had been formed along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Following several discussions, in 1928 at a meeting in Washington, DC, the American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs was formed. Interesting that this was the same year the Association of Venture Clubs was formed.

The American Federation was renamed in 1958 to ‘Soroptimist Federation of the Americas’ and in 1974 to ‘Soroptimist International of the Americas’.

Soroptimist International Association

Despite their similarity, neither the Association of Venture Clubs nor the Soroptimist Movement was aware of the other’s existence. Thus, in 1923 when Stuart Morrow visited London, he persuaded Lady Falmouth to start the Central London Soroptimist Club, which received its charter in 1924 from Morrow. Thus the Soroptimist Movement became international. The London Soroptimist Club was active in extension and formed Clubs in Manchester (1926), Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool (all in 1927).

In 1924, Stuart Morrow introduced Suzanne Noël to Soroptimism. Her 13-year-old daughter had died and the tragedy had left Suzanne Noël looking for a meaningful endeavour. She formed a Club in Paris in 1927 with 93 members. By 1929, through her initiatives, Soroptimist Clubs were founded in the Hague, Amsterdam, Milan, and Vienna. In 1937, Edith Glanville formed the first Soroptimist Club in Sydney.

In 1927, there was a meeting of Soroptimist Clubs in San Francisco but delegates from Clubs in the UK and Europe were unable to attend. An “International Federation” was formed but it was not accepted by the Soroptimists outside of North America. At the end of 1927, Soroptimist Clubs in England, Scotland, France, Holland and Italy held their own meeting in London and formed the European Federation of Soroptimist Clubs. In 1928, representatives from all 16 American Clubs, 1 Canadian Club, and 8 representatives from Clubs in the European Federation attended the Washington DC Conference and the two Federations were formally adopted: the American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs (including Canada) and the European Federation of Soroptimist Clubs (including Great Britain). Furthermore, they united to form the Soroptimist International Association.

In advance of the 1928 meeting, a competition was organised to find a suitable emblem for the Soroptimist International Association and numerous designs were submitted. According to the minutes of the 1928 meeting, the Insignia Committee whittled down the entries prior to the meeting and submitted two for a vote of the meeting’s delegates. They chose the design by Anita Houtz Thompson, a member of the Alameda Club.  The plaque with the original casting of the emblem is in the Soroptimist Archives in Philadelphia (Photograph courtesy of The Soroptimist Archives, Soroptimist International of the Americas, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). The tag at the bottom of the plaque says, “PRESENTED TO THE SOROPTIMIST CLUB OF OAKLAND BY ANITA HOUTZ THOMPSON DESIGNER”.

The figure in the center of the emblem disc represents the spirit of womanhood – “vital, steadfast and dauntless with the golden rays of a new day forming an auriol for her indomitable figure. The arms are upraised in a gesture of freedom and glory in the new era of her sisterhood. She holds a plaque bearing the name “Soroptimist”. On the right are oak leaves and acorns, symbolic not only of the strength and growth of the organisation but also of the progress and achievements that it will attain. On the left are laurel leaves as a symbol of victory and typifying friendship and service”.

Amalgamation of Venture and Soroptimist Clubs

By the beginning of 1929, members of the Association of Venture Clubs and of the Soroptimist International Association were aware to each other’s existence. As the mission of both organisations was similar, the possibility of joining forces was investigated. In May 1929, Miss Davie, a member of the Soroptimist Council, sent a letter inviting Miss Phillips and Mlle Bourgeois (member of the Bath Venture Club and former member of the Bristol Club) to lunch. At the lunch, a suggestion of amalgamation of the two organisations was put to them. They agreed to take it to the Board of Directors of the Association of Venture Clubs. The Board discussed the possibility and asked Miss Phillips and Mlle Bourgeois to have a further meeting with representatives of the Soroptimists. As a result, the Directors decided the whole matter should be placed before each Venture Club on or before 5th October 1929.

At the Bristol Venture Club, on 25th October 1929, when Mlle Bourgeois spoke about the proposals for amalgamation of Venture and Soroptimist Clubs: 19 members voted ‘For’ the resolution and 6 refrained from voting.  On 4th November 1929, a special meeting was held so that the Bristol Venture Club Council could “consider the proposal, received by the Board of Directors from the Soroptimists, for amalgamation between the two organisations.” Minutes of a Bristol Venture Club Council meeting, dated 18th November 1929, stated the “result of vote on the amalgamation with Soroptimists was, that all members who replied, were in favour of it.”

Both organisations felt that “to unite and work together for the ideals of fellowship and service was finer and more in keeping with their aims than to strive in competition.” On 2nd January 1930, the Association of Venture Clubs approved continuance of amalgamation discussions with the Soroptimists. It was thought it would be best done before the Soroptimist International Association’s AGM. To accommodate this, the date of the AGM of the Association of Venture Clubs (to be their last AGM) was advanced. Leading up to the amalgamation, the Venture Clubs met frequently to discuss issues and concerns. Key discussions are given below.

Members of the Bristol Venture Club agreed that the name R.O.T.A. should be put forward as a possible name for amalgamated Clubs. This was rejected, so a recommendation was put forward that extant Venture Clubs before amalgamation be called “Venture-Soroptimist” and that all new Clubs formed after amalgamation be called “Soroptimist”. The Board proceeded with negotiations regarding the suggested amalgamation of Soroptimist and Venture Clubs, but agreed that “all final decisions in regard to this matter were deferred until the next Association of Venture Clubs Conference.”

At the time of this last AGM, there were ten Clubs in the Association of Venture Clubs. The Table below lists each Club, the year it was formed, and the number of members in 1930:

Association of Venture Clubs Year Club was formed Number of members in 1930
Bristol 1920 116
Bath 1923 86
SW London 1924 43
Central London 1924 50
Croydon 1924 41
Halifax 1927 Not stated
Sheffield 1927 28
Bradford 1928 Not stated
Coventry 1928 Not stated
Plymouth 1930 33


On 25th January 1930, a joint meeting of representatives from Venture (n=14) and Soroptimist (n=14) Clubs was diplomatically chaired by two people: Dr Elizabeth Hunt (from Soroptimists; the first half) and Mlle Bourgeois (from Venturers; the second half). Some of the names proposed for the amalgamated clubs were:

Union of Classification Clubs
Soroptimist International Association
National Union of Soroptimist Clubs

On 6th February 1930 all Venture Clubs were asked to summarize variations in the two Constitutions that were important to them. On 10th February 1930, Miss Kingdom read the Report of the joint meeting of Venture and Soroptimist Representative that had been held on 25th January. After discussion the Association Venture Clubs Council decided (reluctantly) to accept the name “Soroptimist” – if the Board so decided. However, discussions continued.

On 13th February 1930 a special meeting was held after the main differences in Constitution and Bye-Laws had been studied by an ad hoc committee of Council and Club members. A summary of recommendations made by the Committee was read and there followed much discussion. The main point of issue was the recommendation that although existing Venture Clubs should maintain the name Venture; all new Clubs should be called Soroptimist. Some members felt that:
“- Venture would eventually cease to be. This is regrettable since Venture had acquired a name for itself as standing for certain principles and further had been more clearly connected with Rotary than any other Classification Club. It was considered also that Venture input may not always be represented on the Central British and European Councils and thus would forfeit the opportunity of influencing vital decision.
– on the other hand, the points to be gained by amalgamation were an increase in strength, both numerically and financially, the acquisition of international status and the avoidance of overlapping where only one Club was necessary. In view of the advantages gained, it was suggested by a member that it would be more satisfactory for all Clubs to adopt the name Soroptimist from the date of amalgamation
.”  After discussion, the following was proposed: “That this Club [Bristol Venture Club] decides to amalgamate on the terms that the Joint Committee has suggested.” By a show of hands, the vote was 10 ‘For’ and 15 ‘Against’. It was felt by a number of members that a more satisfactory arrangement than complete amalgamation by two Clubs would be a Federation of all Classification Clubs to which representatives could be set and a resolution was put: “This Club approves the formation of a Federation of central organisation to which representatives of all Classification Clubs could be sent.” 17 members voted ‘For’.

1st March 1930, the Association of Venture Clubs Board of Directors met to discuss the name for the combined organisation. At the time there were nine Venture Clubs. The Plymouth Club, which became the tenth and final Club to join the Association of Venture Clubs, was formed in February 1930 and did not take part in the meeting. The representatives expressed what their Club thought the amalgamated Clubs should be called:

Bristol                   Venture-Soroptimist
Bath                      Drop Venture name and be called Soroptimist Clubs
SW London           Union of Classification Clubs
Central London     Not stated
Croydon                Soroptimist
Halifax                   Leave in the hands of the appointed Delegates
Sheffield                Leave in the hands of the appointed Delegates
Bradford                Soroptimist
Coventry               Soroptimist

On 17th March 1930, “the Council of the Bristol Venture Club feel they cannot go further than their Resolutions already passed and forwarded to the Directors.” Some Bristol Venture Club members were against the name “Soroptimist” and suggested “that the two Clubs both set aside their names and agree upon a common name to be decided later. The present name to be conjoint, i.e., ‘Venture-Soroptimist’ in the interim.” However, it was finally decided “Venture” should become “Soroptimist”. This decision was reached at the Association of Venture Clubs Conference held in London (30th May to 1st June 1930, attended by 27 Bristol Venture Club members), and afterwards ratified by the members at an Extraordinary meeting on 2nd June. This marked a very important change in the annals of the Bristol Venture Club and for the Venture movement generally. Here ends the first decade.


Amalgamation, continued (Posted 2 August 2019)

1930 was a noteworthy year for both the Association of Venture Clubs and the Soroptimist Movement. Why? Because they amalgamated. This resulted in the formation of a ‘National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain’, within the Soroptimist International European Federation. Recognising the importance of both the organisations, the Council of this new National Union was to consist of 12 Soroptimist members and 12 Venture members. To meet their target number, the Association of Venture Clubs unanimously agreed to appoint a representative from each of the member Clubs (making ten women) and to elect Miss Phillips and Mlle Bourgeois (Bath Club) to bring the total to 12.

In 1931, the following Resolutions regarding the National Union Council for the year 1931-32 were adopted:

  1. That the Council of the Union for the period of one year, following the Conference in June 1931, should consist of one representative from each Club, who need not necessarily be an office bearer.
  2. That the Club from which the President is elected (at the first meeting of the new Council) should elect a second representative to serve on the Council.
  3. That the Immediate Past President should be an ex-officio member of the Council.
  4. That the National Union’s representatives on the Board of Governors of the European Federation should be ex-officio members of the council, if they are not otherwise elected to the Council”.

On 26th May 1930, still unhappy with some details of the amalgamation, the Bristol Venture Club suggested several edits to the new Constitution and Bye-Laws, however two days later they received a letter from E.H. Davy stating she was unwilling to accept them. The final AGM of the Association of Venture Clubs was held on 30th May to 1st June 1930. The following pertinent Resolutions, extracted from the 10 pages of AGM Minutes, show that the Venture Clubs accepted retention of the name ‘Soroptimist’, albeit reluctantly:
“1. Amalgamation between Venture and Soroptimist Associations to take place as from the date of the Conference, subject to the agreement of the Soroptimists.
2. With regret, but with the conviction that it is the only course open to us, in the cause of uniformity, all Venture Clubs shall take the name of Soroptimist on amalgamation (with agreement, for three years only, that ‘formerly or originally Venture Club of _______’ may be used on Club stationery).
3. All Venture Clubs agree to the Constitution and Bye-Laws as formed by the Joint Committee for the purpose.

The final decision by the Venture Clubs to amalgamate with the Soroptimist Movement was made on 2nd June 1930 at the first Soroptimist International Association Convention, which was held in London, England.  Representatives from the Association of Venture Clubs and all 10 countries (USA, Canada, Great Britain, France, Holland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland) of the Soroptimist Movement attended, giving a total of 360 members from 53 Clubs. It was actually not until 25th July 1930, and after much discussion, that  it was eventually agreed the combined Movement should be named ‘Soroptimist’, mainly because in some countries this name was sanctioned by Act or Charter and thus, difficult to alter. However, the spirit of ‘Venture’ remained, as SIGBI incorporated the motto of the first [Bristol] Venture Club – ‘Looking Further’, into its emblem. Also the President’s insignia of the Association of Venture Clubs was subsequently worn by the three Presidents of the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs and thereafter by Presidents of SIGBI (see below).

National Union of Soroptimist Clubs

The Certificate of Membership in the ‘Soroptimist International Association-European Federation’ that was issued to the Bristol Club is in the Bristol Archives. The Certificate states: “The Soroptimist International Association hereby certifies that the Soroptimist Club of Bristol having agreed to be bound by the Constitution and Bylaws of the European Federation – which agreement is evidenced by the acceptance of this Certificate – has been duly formed as a Club in association with the Soroptimist International Association provided that the membership of such Club does not at any time fall below twenty-five.” Signed by the President and the Secretary of the European Federation.

The letter accompanying the Certificate reads, “Dear Miss Kingdom, I have pleasure in enclosing your Club’s Certificate of Membership of the Soroptimist International Association. You will note that the Certificate details the membership below which a Club may not fall below twenty-five, which was, at the recent International Conference, altered to fifteen, i.e., since your Club joined the Association.”

By 1933, the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain expanded its name to include Ireland.

The insignia of the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs prominently features elements of the Bristol Venture Club and of the Bristol City Coat of Arms – hardly surprising as it was designed for the Association of Venture Clubs. The bars in the photograph below reveal that the insignia was first worn by the two Presidents of the Association of Venture Clubs (Miss Phillips 1928-29 and Mlle Bourgeois 1929-30). After the formation of the National Union of Soroptimists the insignia was altered to incorporate, in the middle, ‘National Union of Soroptimists’ and was worn by the three Presidents (Dr Hunt 1930-31, Miss Catto 1931-33, and Lady Barrett 1933-34). When the third Federation was formed (see below), in October 1935, this insignia was again altered to incorporate, around the edge, the words “Federation of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland” and was then worn by Presidents of the new Federation until 2006. At that time it was considered too fragile and the Federation was advised that “to attempt to repair again could completely ruin it”. Rather than archiving the insignia, it was decided to display it in the lobby at No 63 Bayswater Road. The replacement insignia is a replica. The second insignia of the SI Bristol President, which was made in 1934, is remarkably similar.

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To coincide with the amalgamation, the first volume of the ‘British Soroptimist’ newsletter was first published in March 1930. It cost sixpence per issue. This newsletter continued to be published monthly (except for August) at least until 1942 (Vol 12). As with many newsletters, it was not easy to solicit articles; in September 1932, a letter on The British Soroptimist letterhead was sent by the Business Manager requesting that Mrs Budgett ask SI Bristol members for articles and to subscribe to the magazine. Each Club in the National Union was expected to contribute a page, monthly, to the British Soroptimist newsletter. This requirement led to the secession of contributions by the Bristol Club to the Rotary ‘Gearbox’ newsletter.

Surprise Decision

At the time of the amalgamation, Miss Phillips was, rightly, deemed to be by far the best person and the Bristol Club unanimously selected her to be their representative on the National Union Council with Miss Tivy serving as her Proxy. In 1930, Miss Phillips was duly elected as First Vice President of the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs, with the full expectation she would become President the following year. However instead of Miss Phillips, Mrs Helen Catto from Glasgow was made President. During the Conference, the President, Mrs Elizabeth Hunt, unexpectedly nominated Miss Catto from the floor. This was a highly irregular occurrence. Shortly thereafter, on 4th August 1931, a Resolution was passed at a meeting of the Executive Committee of SI Bristol and sent to the Honorary Secretary of the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain. “The Executive Committee of the Soroptimist Club of Bristol desire to place on record their keen disappointment that the Conference was left completely in the dark as to the method of electing the National President. They hope in the future the Conference will be given adequate opportunity of expressing its views on the very important matter.”


Back in the SI Bristol Club (1930-1933) (Posted 5th August 2019)

During the great economic depression of the 1930s, activities of the Bristol Club were centred on helping the unemployed and those in distress. On 14th July 1930, the Bristol Soroptimist Club held its first AGM as a Soroptimist Club in Rotary House in Colston Street and they elected the slate of Officers. After the amalgamation, ‘Council’ became known as the ‘Executive Committee’.

After it joined the Soroptimist Movement, the Bristol Club added ‘SOROPTIMIST CLUB’ to their existing emblem and President’s badge. The President’s insignia was attached to a blue ribbon necklace so that a bar with the name of each outgoing President could be added annually.

As using ivory had a devastating effect on the world’s elephant population, SI Bristol ceased using the ivorine oval name disks and started to make their name badges from rectangular pieces of plastic in a metal holder on a ribbon with the ‘Soroptimist International Association’ logo in metal attached to the top. There was a pin at the back with which to attach it to clothing. The name ‘ivorine’ persisted until metal name badges were introduced.  The name badges were inscribed with the Club’s name, member’s name and her Classification.

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During the 1930-31 year, a great deal of time was spent amending the Bristol Club’s Constitution so it was in line with that of Soroptimist Clubs. Operating under the new Constitution and Bye-Laws, the financial year of the Club changed from 30th June to 31st March.

When the possibility of having a Directory of Members of British Soroptimist Clubs was discussed by the National Union (November 1930), SI Bristol voted that each Club “should have a separate Directory in a uniform configuration. That way, each Directory could be bound with the other Club Directories.” The National Union dictated that each Club was “expected to buy one and members could buy their own if they wanted to”. This Directory was a valuable document.

Following the success of the Little Sisters scheme during the first decade, on 15th December 1930, a formal Little Sisters Committee was formed. Miss Tivy was selected to be the leader. The Committee quickly went into action by organising a Christmas party for the Little Sisters and their mentors.

In the SI Bristol Report for 1930-1931, concern was yet again raised regarding attendance. It was noted “there was an average attendance of 61.7%, which is not as high an attendance as such a Club should have”. The causes of low attendance and ways to increase it were discussed. One suggestion was to charge a ‘no-show’ fee but this was never implemented.

Although Club members worked hard, not all its Extension work intended to expand the number of Clubs was successful. For example, in January 1931, of 37 letters sent to women in Cardiff, there were 10 replies (and shortly thereafter letters to 60 women in Cardiff elicited 27 replies). In view of the serious trade depression in Wales, the Cardiff women thought that an entrance fee of £2.2.0 was too ‘heavy’ and a request was made to the National Council to reduce it to £1.1.0. This request was denied and on 6th June 1932 Cardiff decided not to join the Soroptimists.

Toys, given by members at a successful Toy Day made it possible to provide a gift from under the Christmas tree to all the children attending a Little Sisters party. Every month, at Club meetings, clothes and household articles were collected and distributed to the poor. Recognising the value of mock interviews, a scheme was inaugurated that continues to the present. Members of the Bristol Club interviewed and advised girls who were about to leave school. They also shared information regarding their own careers and professions. The scheme was well received by the girls and by their teachers, who did not have time to provide this sort of experience.

7th November 1931, a member penned a letter to the SI Bristol President requesting that a fund be started for SI Bristol members. “In cases of unforeseen necessity, through sickness or other misfortunes, might render assistance to any who may by chance be in need of such help.”  On 18th November 1931, the reply was “members of Executive Committee received the request sympathetically and stated that in such a case, money can be taken from the Benevolent Fund.”

On a rather prestigious note, on 17th November 1931 a luncheon was given by the SI Bristol Club to honour Dame Sybil Thorndike (the well-known Actress); 40 members attended. The Club had a connection with Dame Sybil because she was married to the brother of one of its members, Dr Elizabeth Casson.

In the 1932-33 year, many members felt that whole or part of the expenses of SI Bristol delegates attending Conferences should be paid by the Club. This was in addition to the expenses of the President, which had always been paid. Also, of financial interest, it was agreed at the 1932 AGM that new members joining from September should pay two-thirds of the annual subscription and those joining from December should pay only one-third. The Club’s Extension work continued and as a consequence, a Club in Swansea was formed in 1933. On 26th September 1932, it was agreed that services of the Juvenile Organisations Committee’s typist could be continued, although not indefinitely; and it was agreed to increase the rate of pay from 4d to 6d/hour (six pence in 1932 has an approximate value in 2019 of £4.00).

Illustrative of SI Bristol reaching out beyond the local area, on 11th July 1932 the Club wrote the following Resolution: “That this meeting of the Soroptimist Club of Bristol wishes to record deep thankfulness in the progress that has been made at Lausanne towards Disarmament. At the same time it earnestly desires that the British Government should lead a movement to secure the general abolition of the five classes of weapons forbidden to four countries in the Peace Treaty of 1919 – namely, warships over 10,000 tons, submarines, large machine guns and tanks and all naval and military aircraft together with all preparation for chemical warfare, and secondly the substantial reduction of all remaining categories of armaments.” The Resolution was carried unanimously.

Honour bestowed on Eleanor Addison Phillips

In February 1933, the Central London Club proposed to “elect Miss Addison Phillips an Honorary Member of their Club when, on her retirement, she comes to London.” On 23rd-26th June 1933, the National Conference of the Soroptimist International Association met in Bristol. Miss Phillips, who was again President of the Bristol Club, presided; Miss Catto, National President, attended. In recognition of the outstanding services of Miss Phillips, the National Council appointed her an honorary member of all Soroptimist Clubs. During the Conference, a reception was graciously organised by Miss Phillips at Clifton High School, and the Conference dinner was held at the Berkeley Café in Queens Road.

A month later, in July 1933, SI Bristol held an informal dinner in honour of Miss Phillips at her retirement from her Presidency and also from the SI Bristol Club. At this event, she was given a pendant bearing the initials ‘V’ and ‘S’, and with jewels spelling out the name ‘Soroptimist’ by the first letter of the following jewels: sapphires, opal, ruby, onyx, pearl, tourmaline, iolites, moonstone, and topaz. Engraving on the back of the insignia includes ‘E Addison Phillips’ ‘Looking Further’ and ‘1920-33’. She gave this insignia back to the Bristol Club, who donated it to the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs and it was worn by the Immediate Past President of the National Union. In 1934, it was passed on to the newly formed Federation and in 1935 was worn by the first Immediate Past President of our Federation, Margaret Adams, OBE, MA. The handsome pendant has since been, and still is, worn by the Immediate Past President of SIGBI.

In 1933, the Christmas party for children was replaced by a party for wives of 100 unemployed men. Garments for the unemployed were collected and the Club gave financial support to the Unemployed Welfare Association. A Little Sister’s Christmas party was held at Brownlee’s Studio and a summer outing to Brean was organised where the children played on the sandy beach and enjoyed tea at the Juvenile Organisation Committee Camp.


Formation of the Third Federation (Posted 6th August 2019)       

On 20th May 1933, minutes from an emergency meeting of the Council of the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland (held in London) state that the following suggestion was put forward “That the Soroptimist International Association would be strengthened by the formation of a third Federation: which Federation would include the Clubs which at present form the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland.” The suggestion was referred to the International Body.

Before the National Union acquired Federation status, the Council considered the necessary machinery for affecting the change-over. A Resolution was drafted for consideration at Conference: “In the event of a British Federation being authorised by the Representative Body of the SI:

  1. That the President of the National Union, Ex-Presidents of the National Union of Great Britain and European Federation Representatives, shall constitute the Interim Governing Body of the British Federation until their successors shall have been elected by the British National Conference in 1935.
  2. That the duties of the Interim Governing Body of the British Federation shall be as laid down by the Model Constitution and Bylaws for Federations.”

Other Resolutions were put forward regarding: electing officers, draft Constitution & Bye-Laws for the British Federation, and for District Councils. “Capitation Fees, now paid to the European Federation, shall be paid to the Treasurer of Interim Governing Body of the British Federation.”

At the National Council meeting (held on 13th July 1934 in London; Miss Chivers was the Proxy from Bristol) the following Resolution was put forward: ”That the National Council for 1934-35 shall consist of one representative from each Club (with an additional member from the Club from which the President is elected) together with the Immediate Past President and the elected and ex-officio members of the Board of Governors of the European Federation.” and “That any group of Clubs constituting a National Council, or joined together by geographical proximity or some other definite link, may be formed into a Federation when the number of Clubs is 25 or more.”

In 1934, at the International Convention held in Paris, the formation of a third Federation was confirmed, that of Great Britain and Ireland, with Miss Adams as President. Madame Docteur Noel, who was the President of the European Federation, revised the Constitution of the reconstituted European Federation. In December 1934, the British Federation of Soroptimist Clubs amended the Constitution and Bye-Laws of the European Federation of Soroptimist Clubs to serve as their Constitution and Bye-Laws. In 1935, Dr Victoria Tryon proposed and Miss Evelyn Tivy, MBE seconded an Amendment to the Resolution: “That all Venture Clubs do hereby agree to the Constitution & Bye-Laws as framed by the Joint Committee appointed for the purpose, on the understanding that this is a draft for immediate working purposes and that all Clubs claim the right to forward amendments for the consideration of the National Council, leaving the ultimate decision to that Body.” On 29th June 1935, at the 6th Annual Conference Minutes of the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland, it was unanimously agreed “That the National Union of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland be henceforth a Federation in accordance with the decision reached by the Representative body of the Soroptimist International Association in Paris on 18th July 1934. The name of the Federation to be ‘Soroptimist International Association – Federation of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland’ and not ‘British Federation of Soroptimist Clubs’. “

With formation of the third Federation, it was considered useful to form Regions. Proposals were made for five or nine, so-called, Divisional Unions. The nine model was accepted and they were: London & SE England; SW England; Midland & Eastern Counties; NW England; NE England; Scotland (North); Scotland (South); Wales; and Ireland. These Divisional Unions were formed by the National Council experimentally for one year in the hope they would lessen correspondence with Secretaries. In February 1936, a communication was sent ‘To all Club Secretaries and Council Delegates of the Federation of Soroptimist Clubs of Great Britain and Ireland’ “The present position of divisional organisation is being reviewed by the Constitution Committee.” Clearly, as they thrived, the Divisional Unions were considered to be successful.

Back in the SI Bristol Club (1933-1934)

It is clear from a letter (dated 28th June 1933) from Madge Evans, which stated “I am more than sorry that my marriage necessitates my resigning from SI Bristol after my nine happy years with the Club” that valuable members were being lost to matrimony. One presumes the reason was that, once married, many women did not work and therefore lost their Classification. Another area of concern was the loss of member who retired from their posts. On 22nd November 1933 a motion from SIGBI was made “That a special class or group of Retired or non-active members of a Club be formed, to permit of the inclusion of retired Soroptimists who have been active members of a Club for a period of not less than 3 (or 5) years, such membership to be limited to a period of 10 years, to carry no voting privileges, and to be subject to rd the usual Club membership subscription for active members.” The motion did not pass.  However, by 1935, SIGBI acknowledged that its members were becoming more and more distraught regarding the requirement to leave Soroptimist Clubs once they retired and made the following concession: “That provision be made for the inclusion in Soroptimist Clubs of past members who have retired from practicing their profession or business.” And “That the total number of retired members be limited to 10% of the total Club Membership.” It was stipulated that retired members should pay the same subscription as ordinary members but were not eligible for Office or to serve on the Executive Committee, and have no voting power. However, they were allowed to serve on special committees and could have voting power on sub-committees. This concession began a new era and it was embraced by SI Bristol.

1934 was a busy year as the following changes illustrate. When the Rotary Club of Bristol sold Rotary House, the SI Bristol Club considered various other possible meeting places. They chose the Bristol Music Club in St Pauls Rd, Clifton as their meeting rendezvous, where meetings were held for about twenty years. Miss Hill, who had been an efficient Treasurer for 14 years felt obliged to resign and Miss Madge Thomas was appointed in her place in an honorary capacity. Miss Augusta Deane, OBE was made the first Honorary Member of SI Bristol. The Secretary was authorised to have two extra Bars added to the insignia ribbon; one for Miss Phillips’ second year of office (1932-1933) and one for Miss Kathleen Chivers (1933-1934). Miss Chivers suggested that the official insignia was too heavy to be worn on every occasion when the President was invited to other Societies’ functions and that a smaller badge on a narrow ribbon would be appropriate. It is not known why, at this time, the ribbon with name bars was not simply replaced with a chain, as was eventually done in 1992. The insignia on the ribbon with name bars attached was worn only for special events until 1992. The photograph to the right shows the original ribbon with some of the name bars.

In 1934, Mrs Milani, Miss Samuel and Miss Chivers made enquiries about cost and design for a second President’s badge. Miss Base, from Matchwork and a former SI Bristol member, submitted a rough sketch based on the National Union insignia made four years earlier. She was paid 15/- for the sketch. The design and workmanship were approved by the Executive Committee; cost £4.50. This second badge (photograph below left) was worn when it was not necessary to wear the primary badge with its heavy name bars.

The Club decided to simplify the style of the Past President’s badges. The original badge (below left) was more ornate than the style that replaced it (below right).

In 1934 the Little Sister scheme continued with 12 Big Sisters and 21 Little Sisters. Fund-raising was also continued: a summer Garden Fete at Badminton House School raised £94.5.8; £50 was given to the Unemployment Welfare Association and £44.5.8 to the Benevolent Fund. Leftover goods from the Fete were sold at the next Club meeting, which realised a further £12 for the Benevolent Fund. The, now traditional, Toy Day and Christmas Party for the wives of unemployed men was held in December 1934.  The President’s Reception took place at the Music Club and the usual Civic and other guests were invited. Bristol and Bath interchanged invitations to social gatherings. Monthly collections of clothing and household articles for unemployed and others in need were fruitful. Miss Sykes’ resignation from the Office of Honorary Secretary (1931-35) was received with great regret. Extension work continued with formation of the Exeter Club.

Formation of South West Divisional Union

As mentioned above, when SIGBI was formed, Great Britain was divided into nine Divisional Unions (Ireland being one of them). The one that included SI Bristol was the South West Divisional Union (SWDU), which was formed in 1935. At the first SWDU meeting, which was held in Bristol in 1935, the President of SI Bristol, Mrs Kate Milani, was elected as the first President of the Divisional Union. The SWDU Council consisted of two members each from SI Bristol, SI Bath, SI Exeter, SI Plymouth and the newest Club, SI Swansea.

In 1937 SI Bristol proposed, and SI Bath seconded that the SWDU should have an insignia. It was agreed that Exeter should obtain designs and estimates from the supplier of their own recently acquired insignia, Messrs Bruford of Exeter. The insignia designed for the SWDU President depicted the Coat of Arms the four founding Clubs in the South West of England: Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Plymouth. It cost £17.14.0. Each Club contributed two guineas and the remaining £9.6.0 was taken from the SWDU funds, which at the time stood at £19.19.3. In 1938 the insignia was presented to the SWDU President, Miss Elsie Russ of the Bath Club, by the immediate Past President, Mrs Milani of the Bristol Club.

In 1991, when the Divisional Union changed its name to South West and Channel Islands (SW&CI), a piece of metal engraved with ‘S.W.&C.I.R.C.’ was added to the top of the original insignia.

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Back in the SI Bristol Club (1935-1940)

During the 1935-1936 year, Extension work progressed with formation of Clubs in Bridgwater, Exeter, Taunton, and Weston-super-Mare. Social events included a Toy Day, a Christmas Party for the wives of 100 unemployed men, a visit to Little Theatre, and the President’s Reception. As an experiment to raise funds for the Benevolent Fund, members were asked to contribute 10 shillings each, and many responded favourably.

On 8th July 1935, a resolution was passed in support of SIGBI: “That the Soroptimist Club of Bristol, having considered the report of the Departmental Committee on Sterilisation, and being in agreement with the recommendations therein, urge upon the Government the need for the introduction of a measure to legalise voluntary sterilisation in conformity with the said regulations.”

25th January 1936 – a communication from SIGBI to all Club secretaries and delegates invited them to “send representatives to Geneva to study work of the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations and attend the session of the International Labour Conference”. SI Bristol suggested that a grant be made from Federation to cover part of the cost of this visit, and that a notice be inserted in The British Soroptimist. The connection of Soroptimists with the League of Nations was a forerunner to the valued special status SI now has with the United Nations.

On 17th February 1936 the Club ruled that “a member could be an Officer for no more than two consecutive years in that capacity; after a lapse of one year she would be eligible for re-election to the Office. During that year, she could hold another Office.”

In November 1936, Mrs Mabel Carson bequeathed £10 to SI Bristol that was placed in the Benevolent Fund. As an appropriate memorial it was decided to fund equipment for the Juvenile Organisations Committee’s new hut at Southmead. One hundred chairs were purchased as well as a counter and coffee urns. In February 1937 it was agreed that, “as a permanent memorial to Mabel Carson, a gong for the President’s table should be purchased.” This table bell was purchased from Fattorini & Sons, Ltd., Birmingham who suggested that a better tone would result from a sheep-bell shape using a felt tipped stick. This advice was not heeded! The Bell is still in use today.


In addition, a Club member made up the remaining money from Mrs Carson to £2.2.0. This money was used to contribute to the purchase of two small windows for a Chapel in the Convent of St John & St Elizabeth, St John’s Wood, London where Mrs Carson’s only sister, Sister Mary Joseph Peter, worked practically all her life. There was a stipulation that the design include a portrait of Mabel Carson’s little son, who died in infancy. The total estimated cost for the window was 40 guineas.

In the 1936-37 year, toys were distributed to needy children living in West Knowle Housing Estate. A garden fete in Cote House garden raised over £100 for the Benevolent Fund. Monthly collections of garments for unemployed Welfare and District Nurses Associates were continued. A collection of plants for the Garden Guild was made. Social events included: President’s Reception, evening at Royal Fort by invitation of Immediate Past President (Mrs Dobson); a visit to the Little Theatre; parties for wives of unemployed men and for the Little Sisters.

On 12th March 1937, a new member, Miss Elizabeth Ralph, was inducted. By profession, she was the Bristol City Archivist and an invaluable member of SI Bristol for over six decades. The attributes that made her a great Archivist, which included being organised, precise, scholarly and efficient, were valuable for SI Bristol. Three years after joining the Club, Miss Ralph was elected as the Honorary Secretary, a position she held until 1961. This was a 21-year stint, making her by far the Club’s longest serving Secretary. She also was President of SI Bristol for two terms (1943-1944 and 1965-1966) and President of the SWDU for two consecutive terms (1946-1947 and 1947-1948). She maintained the Club’s archives and wrote a pamphlet describing the Club’s history.

During the first quarter of 1937, two founder members of the Bristol Venture Club [Miss Hill and Miss Deane] died and it was thought that their work should be commemorated. For Miss Augusta Deane, the Club subscribed to a memorial in Bristol Cathedral (cost £3.3.0) and in memory of the first Honorary Treasurer, Miss Hill, they bought a Presidential chair (cost £10.5.0). The chair was suitably inscribed and first used by the Club on 4th July 1938. The balance of the money that had been collected (£10.4.0) was donated to the Victoria Gibbs Memorial Babies Home, a charity in which Miss Hill had been very interested in. A sand box for the children to play in was purchased for the Home.

On 26th April 1937, in support of SIGBI, SI Bristol members passed a Resolution that gives a flavour regarding working conditions in the 1930s: “That 35 years since last consolidating and amending Factories and Workshops Act – SI Bristol welcomes the new Factories Bill and urges Government to pass the Bill into law. “No measure will be satisfactory which fails to:

  1. Prescribe stringent standards in all matters relating to “the health, safety, comfort and welfare of workers
  2. Fix a maximum working week not exceeding 40 hours for young persons
  3. Prohibit overtime altogether for young persons
  4. Raise minimum age of entry to factory employment to 15
  5. Provide for an annual holiday with pay for all workers in addition to the existing statutory holidays.

By the 1937-38 year, members realised the importance of documenting the history of the Club. To accomplish this, Miss Alice Durie suggested a book be written to record the history of the Bristol Club. It was decided that the best way to maintain an official record of the Club was to write a brief summary of key activities for each year and to call the book “The Book of the Soroptimist Club of Bristol”. The actual book was donated by Miss Durie, which she gave “as a token of her appreciation of the interest and fellowship brought into her life through her membership”. In the Preface, written in beautiful copperplate, Miss Muriel Thomas (SI Bristol President 1937-1938) accredits Miss Alice Durie “for suggesting that a book be prepared whose object was to record the history and development of the Club.” Muriel Thomas also states that “Miss Ralph has been appointed Records Secretary and the actual writing of the first entries is the work of Miss Lifton, a clerk in Bristol Corporation Archives Department. A sub-committee was formed to reorganize the filing system of Archived materials, which in the 17 years had grown too rapidly for the peace of the secretaries”. There was also a three and a half page Introduction written by Miss Phillips, in calligraphy, giving a brief history of the Bristol Venture Club. The saga of this book continues in the 1990-2000 Decade.

In January, a member secured a special price for tea. 50lbs of tea were distributed into 100 ‘tins’ and at the New Year Party 1938 one tin was given to each wife of 100 unemployed men. The cost was 1/4d per tin “containing ½ lb rare Indian and Ceylon tea”. These gifts were especially appreciated by the recipients.

SIGBI issued a request that Clubs focus on Extension work to get new members, to form new Clubs wherever possible, and to form additional new Clubs in any city capable of supporting more than one Club. On 25th November 1938, the possibility of forming a second Club in Bristol – in Eastville or Kingswood – was addressed but then it was thought that a second Club should be based on geographical need and the possibility of a new Club in Fishponds, Kingswood or Frenchay was entertained. A second Club in Bristol was never formed. However, SI Clubs in nearby towns were formed: Reading (1937), Bournemouth (1938), Gloucester (1938) and Oxford (1939).

The matter of attendance remained a concern to the Executive, who instructed the President to get in touch with defaulters. This did not make her popular and did little to increase attendence!

On 31st December 1938 Bristol’s annual subscription to SIGBI was increased from 30/- to 35/- “to cover cost of the Directory and Magazine, which will be sent to all members, from Headquarters in 1939.”

During the first months of 1939, as rumours of war surfaced, SI Bristol held some of its meetings in the Young Women’s Christian Association Club in Park Street because it was more convenient to the many members who were engaged in Air Raid Precaution (ARP) duties. In preparation for the possible war, in 1938 the Government had set up the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) and Woman’s Land Army. In 1939 pupils in schools were given gas-masks and received drills; they were required to carry the gas-masks at all times. In September 1939 Britain declared War on Germany and World War II (WWII) began.

In September 1939, despite the outbreak of WWII, the usual meetings were resumed and were held almost without interruption throughout the war in spite of aerial bombardment; although social events had to be abandoned. Amazingly, when the City was under a terrible strain, the SI Bristol Club joined with other women’s clubs to arrange a luncheon in honour of George Bernard Shaw, who spoke on ‘Toscanini’. This light-hearted event was well attended. The Club managed to hold two fundraising events, one an afternoon in Mrs Robinson’s beautiful garden and the other a Fete at Dr Casson’s Dorset House, at which SI Bristol members were responsible for teas. Extension work was not forgotten; a meeting at Cheltenham occurred with view to forming a Club there. £350 was given from the Benevolent Fund to the SIGBI Ambulance Fund. As a special war effort, a scheme was organised by Miss Barber for sending knitted ‘comforts’ (sweaters, socks, mufflers, fingerless mitts, toe covers (for use with a cast), stump covers, etc., usually in olive drab or navy blue wool yarn) to the troops. This was well supported by members and continued for several years.

On 24th August 1939 members of SI Bristol unanimously agreed with a Resolution from SIGBI “British women married to aliens shall have the option of reacquiring their British nationality and British women who marry aliens shall retain British nationality unless they desire otherwise.  Alien women married to British men – same condition as to residency, oath of allegiance, etc., as is required for a man or single woman.”

25th September 1939, SI Bristol continued to exert pressure on the Bristol City Council concerning safety on the Bristol streets. It was unanimously agreed to send a letter to the Council stating: “The SI Club of Bristol feeling concerned at problems arising in our streets and public places from the abnormal conditions occasioned by darkened streets and presence of large numbers of strangers in or near the City, urges the Watch Committee to help the Police to deal with these problems. Such appointments to be made by the powers conferred on Local Authorities by the Special Constables Order 1923.”  No record was found regarding any action taken by the Council.

During the war, Extension Officers were first appointed so that one individual in each Divisional Union was primarily responsible for focussing on the need to enlarge that Divisional Union. The resulting increase in members was deemed to have been outstanding. This was in spite of the fact that in 1939, it is clear that members still had to resign if they married, retired or otherwise lost their Classification.