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Congratulations Soroptimist International Greater London – a Century of History!


On 17th February 2024, members of Soroptimist International Greater London (SIGL) Club, the first Soroptimist club chartered outside America, seventh in the world [i], were kindly invited by Soroptimist Hotel Number 63 manager Victoria to visit the hotel with Miss Amelia Hawes, great, great-niece of SIGL member Miss Elizabeth Hawes MBE (1888-1966) – pictured here in her garden.  Amelia wished to photograph centenary year SIGL Sisters visiting Number 63, for a book she is compiling based on the World War II exertions of her relative Elizabeth Hawes (Bess to her family).

The Bless Bess Book is to be Amelia’s final university submission.  It has to be good.

Here are two photos taken by Amelia, kicking off the SIGL centenary celebrations. The first photo of SIGL Members was taken at Number 63, and the second one was in a local pub – with a toast and many congratulations!






Looking back:

Elizabeth Hawes twice served as president of SI Greater London club.  In 1937-38 she was elected president of the SI Great Britain & Ireland (SIGBI) Federation.  In the politically anxious year of 1938, Elizabeth was appointed to the new Soroptimist role of Soroptimist International Association (SIA) Liaison Secretary.  That meant liaising as best she could with Soroptimist sisters throughout the three existing SI Federations: The Americas, Europe and Great Britain & Ireland.  Bess blessed her excellent education, partly in Europe, that entailed mastery of several European languages.  There was little doubt in 1938 that Soroptimists had the threat of war in mind.[ii]

Due to the advent of World War II (1939-1945), Elizabeth was to maintain her vital Liaison Secretary role for a decade, until 1948.  She proved a conduit of hope, raising the spirits of Soroptimists in Europe whose countries and whose lives were dominated by enemy surveillance.

Elizabeth regularly passed on to Soroptimists in Europe, through whatever avenues fate offered, parcels of food and clothing for distribution. A great deal was donated by Soroptimists in the UK and the United States.

In addition to Soroptimist duties, Elizabeth was an indispensable dispensing optician to her father’s optical firm.  When her father retired, his son, and daughter Bess, served as equal partners.  In due course Bess’s brother handed on responsibility to his two sons.

World War Two, 1939-1945.  On May 8, 1945, aggressor Germany surrendered to Britain and her Allies.  World War II in Europe came to an end.  Later that year, US President Truman announced aggressor Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II in the Pacific region.  The world wearily counted the cost – and sadly counted the lost.

Looking forward:

At New York in June 1945, the proposed United Nations Organisation (UN) became a reality. Delegates established an International Peace-keeping Force to which all member nations contributed.  A secretariat was to be based in New York, an International Court of Justice in The Hague, and an Economic and Social council (ECOSOC) in Paris.  In January 1946 the inaugural session of the United Nations General Assembly took place in London.

In 1946 the boards of the three Soroptimist Federations met in London for Soroptimist International Association’s 25 year Silver Anniversary.  Miss Hawes was awarded a Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal for war service.

In 1948 Mrs Marion E. Sykes BA, then President of Soroptimist International Greater London club, with other members of the Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) – appointed a “find a permanent home committee”, and inspected a freehold property at 63 Bayswater Road offered for sale. The committee approved the premises’ position and potential, minutes from Lancaster Gate tube station and almost opposite an ornamental gate to Kensington Gardens’ Italian Water Garden designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria.

The unique ornamental front bay window of ‘63’ designed by Arts & Crafts metalworker W.A.S. Benson, echoes the water-garden shapes.  The price asked for the building, once an elegant private home, latterly a rented room house, was manageable.

The committee authorised purchase to which British Soroptimists subscribed.  On 1st October 1948, the property was transferred to the stewardship of SIGBI Federation.

The 1948 SIA quadrennial (4-yearly) Convention was held in Harrogate, England.

The SIA was accredited to UNESCO.

The UN Paris Assembly adopted The Declaration of Human Rights. [iii]

Also in 1948, the SIA, in appreciation of the heavy task undertaken by Elizabeth Hawes in supervising Soroptimist international communications throughout World War Two, invited her to redecorate and furnish to her personal taste, one of the rooms at Hotel 63 Bayswater Road, London W2.

Much generous service was contributed by Soroptimists to the 1949 opening of British Headquarters.  The event coincided with the 25 year, silver anniversary of the SI Greater London Founder Club’s charter.

In SIGL Centenary Year 2024, Miss Amelia Hawes photographed Greater London club members relaxing in the recently redecorated Hotel 63 that their SIGL predecessors, in cooperation with other SIGBI Federation clubs, helped to find, fund & refurbish for use as:

  1. Top floor office accommodation for the SIGBI Federation
  2. Elegant space in which SI Club Members hold business meetings
  3. Cloakroom accommodation and catering facilities
  4. Hotel accommodation for visiting Soroptimists

Moving with the times, in 2024 Number 63 must pay its way as a select small hotel offering ancillary board room meeting and catering facilities.  It extends a warm welcome to all guests, reserving a particularly warm welcome for international Soroptimists.

It was a treat for Miss Amelia Hawes to see on display at ‘63’ the framed colour photograph of her great, great-aunt Elizabeth Hawes, (see photo above) taken in her garden where, in 1938, three cherry trees were planted by officers representing the first three Soroptimist Federations.  One ancient cherry tree survives.

On 17th February 2024, once Amelia had photographed contemporary SIGL Sisters in situ, it was time for the group to gravitate to the neighbouring Swan Inn for lunch together in celebration of their centenary date just passed.  The 17th was the first Saturday after St Valentine’s Day, when working women were free to celebrate.

For at least one SIGL family carer, this was her first venture out of self-isolation since the COVID pandemic became official in March 2019.  For the five years 2019 -2023, SIGL members had been attending Club Zoom meetings only.

Now lunch-time, in-person conversation flowed freely – a celebration of friendship, of the successful anti-COVID vaccination programme, and of the 2024 centenary of British Soroptimist International Founder Club, Greater London.

The SIGL Founding President was Kathleen, Viscountess Falmouth, President of the Swanley Horticultural College for Women.  The college trained a number of women who joined the Women’s Land Army, stepping into the boots of agricultural working men called up for military service.  When shipping lanes for importing food were closed by enemy submarines and bomber pilots, women held home-front famine at bay.

It seems that professional club founder American Stuart Morrow who chartered the initial Oakland, California women’s club on similar principles to Rotary Clubs, visited London expressly to meet Lady Falmouth.  Her horticultural interest may have been engaged by the Oakland, California women’s club’s success in saving ancient Redwood Trees that commercial interests planned to fell for furniture making.

Lady Falmouth’s interest in artificial limb making was aroused by the tragedies of World War I, 1914-18.  In 1915 with others she founded Queen Mary’s Limb-fitting Hospital in Roehampton.  In March 1953 Lady Falmouth planted a white acacia tree on the main lawn of Queen Mary’s Hospital in memory of the ladies with whom she had founded the Hospital in 1915.  She herself died later that year, aged 92.  In 1951 Queen Mary attended the hospital Garden Party for the last time.  She also, died in 1953 leaving instructions in her will that the Princess Royal should visit the Hospital regularly. [iv]

SIGL Club’s enamel-on-metal presidential insignia designed and made by artist member and suffragette Mrs Ernestine Mills, is of a sturdy sapling tree destined to grow strong.  Mills’s original batch of British Arts & Crafts, enamel-on-metal Past-President badges, depict a fruiting orange tree symbolizing generosity – Soroptimist service towards helping women and girls achieve their aspirations locally, nationally, and internationally. Please see the image included here.

SIGL members wholeheartedly thank SI London Chilterns Region President Kate Belinis and the super-efficient LCR team for arranging a highly successful visit last March to Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, former family home of Lady Constance Lytton, aristocrat suffragette.  Our visit aptly celebrated International Women’s Day and the Centenary of British Founder Club SI Greater London, in 2024. Please click here to read more

The photo here is of seven Members of SI Greater London at Knebworth House with Regional President Kate Belinis third from the right.

i    SIA Golden Jubilee History 1921-1971 by Beatrice F. Hyslop, printed USA 1971; p.210 The First 50 Soroptimist Clubs in the World

ii  Ibid. pp.186-188, SIA Liaison Secretaries

iii Ibid. p.216 Landmarks of Soroptimist History


Copyright © V. Irene Cockroft 2 April 2024

There will be more centennial celebrations during the year so watch this space! Click here to view the programme on the website