SOROPTIMISM IN SEVENOAKS
A history of our Club
Part 1 Introduction
Soroptimism came to Sevenoaks in 1938, seventeen years after the organisation was founded in California and fourteen years after it spread to Europe. Prior to its official inauguration on 4th February the first meeting of our club was held on 18th January 1938.
Soroptimist International is a world-wide association for women intent on improving conditions for people, particularly women and girls, living in deprived circumstances at home and abroad. In Sevenoaks we are part of the South East region, under the umbrella of Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI).
Our archives make interesting reading. Initially there were fourteen members, all actively professional women, who continued to meet throughout World War Two. The minutes, either immaculately hand written or carefully recorded on a manual typewriter, indicate a group of women serious in their commitment to fund raising in stressful times, whilst continuing to participate in social activities such as dances, tea parties and whist drives. The Covid pandemic of 2020-21 has set a different challenge but modern technology , such as Instagram and Facebook, enables us to keep in touch with members across the globe. We in Sevenoaks have our own website and have remained in cotact with each other and sister clubs via email and zoom.
The first meeting of SI Sevenoaks took place “by kind permission of Miss Ethel Breething” at her home in Dunton Green. Mrs Deed was elected president and Mrs Bosanquet secretary, while the name of Miss Beatrice Wilson (who later founded Rockdale) is amongst those on the Executive. On this occasion Miss May Field, a director of British Instructional Films, gave “a delightful description of her experiences.” As well as the speaker and the fourteen founder members, five guests were present.
In the minutes of the club during the nineteen forties and fifties only members’ titles and surnames are used. Nowadays we are no less serious in approach but less formal in address. President Pat (Mrs Patricia Downing MBE) has recently taken over from President Penelope (Robbins). Penny is now Programme Action Chair for the South East Region, having guided the club successfully through a challenging period. Each president chooses two charities, one of them of local interest, for the club to support through her term of office. President Pat is raising money for the nearby Hospice in the Weald and continuing with CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education), a non-profit making organisation tackling poverty and inequality for girls in African rural communities .
A key international topic in 2021 is the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan. Significantly, when President Pat last held office this issue was of equal concern.
A piece from the Leader of 24th January 1997 reads:-
“The club , whose aims include improving the status of women, has also taken up the cause of women in Afghanistan, who are restricted from working and receiving medical treatment and where schools are closed to them.”
We support a number of local projects, most recently Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees and the local council’s participation in South East England in Bloom . To our delight the Vine sensory garden, restored and maintained by eight of our members, was recently awarded a gold medal.
In our collection we have an early framed version of the Soroptimist Vision., which expects members to “maintain high ethical standards in business, professions and other aspects of life.” Professional employment is no longer a requirement of membership. In fact many Sevenoaks Soroptimists joined after retirement. What we do ask is dedication to our Mission Statement. This has been updated over the years but unchanged in principle. The current version concludes “Soroptimists inspire action and create opportunities to transform the lives of women and girls through a global network of members and international partnerships.”
Club Member Pauline Payne November 2021