Birth of Soroptimism
We probably have the First World War to thank for the birth of Soroptimism. During this conflict, women for the first time had to take key jobs, many entering the professions or running family businesses. By 1920 women were holding positions of importance, gaining degrees from university and meeting each other in a professional capacity, not just socially.
Journalist Ethel Parr reported on the formation of a new Rotary Club in Bristol and suggested that a similar women’s club be formed. As a result, the first Venture Club was formed in Bristol in 1920, with objectives familiar to Soroptimists today. Around this time, Quota Clubs were being formed in Australia and New Zealand.
In 1921 Stuart Morrow, a professional organiser of men’s service clubs, facilitated the creation of the first Soroptimist Club in Oakland, California. Unaware of Venture Clubs, Stuart Morrow came to London in 1924 and persuaded Lady Falmouth to charter the first UK Soroptimist Club in Central London.
Soroptimism continued to grow and in 1928 the Federations of America and Europe were formed, as was the International Association.
Soroptimist Clubs in the UK
In the UK, Soroptimist and Venture Clubs merged in 1930, adopting the Soroptimist name and retaining the Venture Clubs’ motto ”Looking Further”. Our Federation, Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) was formed in 1934.
In 1937, the first Australian Soroptimist Club was charted in Sydney, from the Quota Club.
The Second World War led to many more clubs being chartered. The United Nations, which was to be hugely influential to Soroptimist thinking, was created in 1945 to prevent war, maintain international peace and security, promote social progress and better standards of life through friendly international co-operation.
In the immediate post-war years, there was a great need for Soroptimist service, and the number of UK Clubs grew from 58 in 1938 to 120 in 1946. Many European Clubs, forced to close during the war, were beginning to re-open too.
SI Medway Towns – one of the new post-war Clubs
An explanatory talk on Soroptimism at St. Bart’s Hospital, Rochester on December 6th 1945 by Miss Elsie Bell of Dartford Club resulted in 15 business and professional women signing a petition to SI Headquarters requesting a Medway Club to be created. The Charter presentation took place on June 3rd 1946 and was attended by the National President.
From the end of the war until World Refugee Year in 1960, Soroptimists worked for the rehabilitation of refugees in Europe which culminated in the clearing of the camps at Spittal. The Medway Club sponsored a woman and her daughter who were effectively stateless – no passport, no legal identity, no home to call their own – for over 10 years while they were living in a wooden hut in a refugee camp in Austria.
During the early days the Club also organised interesting speakers and visits. Soon a Benevolent Committee was formed to organise fundraising events. Funds were banked over the months and allocated to deserving causes nominated by Members at the end of the year. The retiring President received five guineas to donate to a charity of her choice. Donations were made to local and national causes, books given to various prisons, clothing to refugees and relief organisations (in the forefront of thoughts at that time) and donations and equipment to handicapped people locally.
Very early on, the Club became involved in caring about the elderly in our community. Members visited lonely older people, became members of local authority Old People’s Welfare Committees and set up a Welfare Fund to assist local plans for housing the aged. In 1952 Buddleia Villa was opened in Pattens Lane and the Club became very involved with the residents over the years. The pinnacle of our service to the elderly was the purchase of 257 Napier Road which became our own Soroptimist House, providing accommodation for ladies who had fallen on hard times.
Chartering of new clubs in Kent
In 1959 a ‘daughter’ Club was formed in Maidstone and in 1961 Canterbury Club was chartered under our auspices.
In the 1970s the Club was fundraising for local charities and to pay off the mortgage for 257 Napier Road, caring for some elderly on a friendship basis and enjoying talks and visits as before. At this time we also became involved with the Kent Talking Newspaper. Areas of local and national concern were discussed and this became more important as time went on. The two main committees were Benevolent (social and fundraising) and International (issues raised by the UN and UNICEF).
By the early 1980s Federation was asking us more frequently for opinions and information, and clubs responded by creating a “Civic Action” committee to address topical issues. By 1985 our key committees had become “Social & Fundraising” and “Civic Action”, which was renamed “Programme Action” to focus more meaningfully on the six programme areas. Our own international projects gave way to international Soroptimist initiatives, and the International Committee became amalgamated into Programme Action.
Celebrating 65th anniversary
In 2011 we celebrated our 65th anniversary and were proud to look back on the contribution made by the Club to the Medway area over the years, and the valuable part played by our members at Club, Region and Federation.
70th anniversary celebrated in 2016
We celebrated our 70th Anniversary in 2016 at the Corn Exchange with an exhibition of our charitable work carried out locally and internationally, shown alongside world events occurring over the past seven decades. Some Soroptimist members wore costumes relating to one of the many decades. To mark the anniversary an essay writing competition was held amongst Medway school children who were asked to write about a woman who had inspired them. A winner was chosen from each of three age groups and it was pleasing to see that the objects of the girls’ inspiration were so wide ranging, including Amelia Earhart; Diana Princess of Wales; Marilyn Monroe; Margaret Thatcher; Florence Nightingale; the founder of YouTube; the Paralympian long distance runner, Kayla Montgomery; Coco Chanel, the French Fashion Designer and Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Prize-winner . The whole event was rounded off with afternoon tea.
In March 2020, our daughter club SI Maidstone took the difficult decision to close after celebrating 60 years of service, as they could not sustain their position. We were pleased to welcome 12 of their members who chose to transfer to SI Medway.
New beginnings with name change
An application was made to SIGBI for our club name to change to SI Medway and Maidstone to reflect our wider membership and this was approved in May 2020.
#Whoisshe – SI Centenary
In 2021, Soroptimist International is celebrating a 100 years of Soroptimists and the theme is a ‘Bright Past and a Brilliant Future’. They have identified 100 Soroptimists who have made a noteworthy contribution to society both in their professional lives and as Soroptimists and then names are being released 12 each month.
Our club put forward a nomination for our Honorary Member, Dr Mary Buchanan who has been a Soroptimist for more than 50 years having joined SI Maidstone in 1967. Find out more about Mary here and why we thought she was worthy of being considered in recognition of her work with a presentation below of her many years as a Soroptimist.