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Soroptimist History

The First Soroptimist Club:

On June 21st 1921, the historic first meeting of the Members Committee met at the Hotel Oakland to officially launch the first Soroptimist club (Soroptimist Club of Alameda County) the first members in Soroptimist history

The core group met once a week and in three short months they had gathered the support of 80 women in Alameda County, California, which was the number stipulated as minimum to form a charter club

The presentation of the Charter and the officer installation ceremony for the Soroptimist Club of Alameda County took place in formal style at the Hotel Oakland on October 3rd 1921 in Oakland, California – Link to Soroptimist International History website

Programme Action – The First Project

One of the major projects undertaken by the Oakland Club concerned the environment with legislative advocacy to “Save the Redwoods”– the great ancient trees which were being felled unmercifully. Soroptimists lobbied the legislature, took on the powerful lumber companies, and gained public support for the project.

The result was that the major portion of the redwoods was set aside in a protected reserve and still stands today, The Redwood Grove was subsequently purchased by Soroptimists

Click here to read more about the Redwood Grove.

Violet Richardson Ward,

Founder President of Soroptimist’s first club in Alameda County and the first Soroptimist President at the podium during the ceremony dedicating a tree in her name at the Redwood Memorial Grove in 1971, and later spending a time of reflection with “Her Tree”

Violet Richardson Ward’s lifetime Motto was “It’s what you do that counts” which sums up Our Work as Soroptimists – Programme Action

Click here to read more about her motto and other “Memories of Violet Richardson-Ward” written by her daughter in law Mimi Ward

This early action set the precedent for future Soroptimist involvement in legislative advocacy, and its subsequent relationship with the United Nation

This was the original intent of service and is the way it has progressed in all Federations.

Bristol England 1920 – Venture Clubs

While discussions regarding a Soroptimist Club were taking place in 1920 in Oakland, the idea for a similar service club was being discussed in Bristol England. The Officers of the Bristol Rotary Club invited prominent women to a meeting, as a result of which, the “Venture Club” was formed in 1920 with a motto of “Looking Further” – Read more about Venture Clubs and the link with Soroptimists here The purpose of the Venture Clubs is very much in line with the purpose of Soroptimists, but neither organisation was at this time aware of the other’s existence. However in 1930 Soroptimist and Venture clubs did unite which makes Bristol club the oldest club in SIGBI celebrating 100 years in 2020.

Worldwide Expansion of Soroptimist International

In 1923 two years after the first Soroptimist club was formed in America, the Greater London Club was formed in Great Britain, and in 1924 Dr. Suzanne Noël a prominent French cosmetic surgeon, was the founding President of the Soroptimist club in Paris.

Establishing Soroptimist Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland, the early years – Click here

Establishing Soroptimist Clubs In Europe  – click here:

 

First Soroptimist World Conference June 1928:

The Conference was held in Washington DC in 1928 and at this conference the United States and Canada formed the American Federation SIA and clubs already established in Great Britain, France, Holland and Italy formed the European Federation SIE.

Other significant milestones at this conference:

  1. The decision that Soroptimist International conventions be held every four years from 1930  onwards.
  2. The constitution was agreed.
  3. The representative body would comprise the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the two Federations. 
  4. The “Soroptimist Emblem” was adopted for all members – Read more about the Soroptimist Emblem here

Soroptimist International of America (SIA) 1930

The search for a Soroptimist ‘creed’ began six months prior to the 1930 convention of Soroptimist International Americas. The delegates chose to defer making a decision for another six months so that each club could receive copies of the proposed creeds to make an informed decision. Ethel Knight Pollard, director of Midwestern/South Atlantic regions, noted “we want a creed that we can use and work by and live by, not one that will simply be printed and stuck away to get dusty and have no use to us.” Read more about the Soroptimist Pledge here

Soroptimist International Convention Paris 1934

Members from the two Federations SIA & SIE met in Paris during the summer of 1934 at the 1st Soroptimist International Convention, where the presiding officer was Dr Suzanne Noël. Dr Noël was so anxious to welcome delegates from America and England to this convention in their own language that she spent 3 months learning English – she told delegates that it was the greatest sign of friendship she could give them. Read more about Suzanne Noël here:

At this Convention Elizabeth Hawes was given the role of Soroptimist International Liaison Officer – Click here to read more about her interesting story.

Much of the time at this Convention was spent discussing “The Professional Position of Women” and achieving gender equality

It was at the Paris Convention that a new Federation was born – Soroptimist International of Great Britain & Ireland (SIGBI) –  read more about SIGBI here

Soroptimist International Conventions

SI Conventions have been held every 4 years as agreed at the 1st World Conference, apart from the WW11 years between 1938 – 1948.

Click here for a list of Soroptimist International Conventions from 1934 to 2019 – dates and countries where they were held.

Soroptimist International Federation Great Britain & Ireland SIGBI

The Federation of Great Britain & Ireland was established in 1934 when Britain split away from the rest of Europe and became the third Federation of Soroptimist International after America and Europe. Margaret Adams then recently elected as President of the National Union of GB became the first President of the Federation of Great Britain & Ireland. Extension progressed rapidly and in June 1935 it was decided to form Divisional Unions. Read more about the History of SIGBI here:

Soroptimist International Convention Atlantic City 1938

In the summer of 1938 members from the three Federations met at the International Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, this was the largest Soroptimist gathering to date, and the last International meeting be held before World War 11. Read more about the Atlantic City Convention here:

Soroptimists Work in Difficult Times

During and after the First World War, woman achieved greatness. However, the Second World War was to show them at their very best. Read more about Worldwide Soroptimists working together through World War 11 here:

The Turning Point 1952

1952 was a real turning point for International Soroptimists. At this time there were 841 Clubs in 22 countries with over 25000 members.

The International Convention 1952 was held
 in Copenhagen 
and after three days of exciting
 reports from the three Federations, the Laws were changed and the first INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT was elected Mrs GERTRUDE G. HUITT past President of Federation of the Americas and the first INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT

Mrs Huitt says “What an honour it was to be the first International President, however  it was Madeliene Garot past President of SIE  who had first talked about the need for officers, so that Soroptimist International could qualify with the United Nations for Consultative Status

Soroptimist work with the United Nations had begun:

Read more about the Turning Point and Soroptimist work with the United Nations here:

Soroptimist International South West Pacific – 4th Federation

Soroptimist International Sydney club received its charter in 1937 Founder President Edith Glanville – Click here to read more about Edith Glanville The Federation of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) claimed this fledgling club. World War II added confusion to the operation of the club, as contact with the British Federation was severely hampered.

It was not until 1978 that the 4th Federation – Soroptimist International of the South West Pacific was formed, what a joyous occasion this was.  The inauguration ceremony of the Federation of the South West Pacific was held in Adelaide at Easter in 1978, such a great moment when SI President Hilda Richardson handed over the Charter of the Federation of the South West Pacific to Her Excellency, Maris King and invested her with the Insignia of SISWP – Read more about the History of SISWP here

Soroptimist International – The Fifth Federation is born – 7th July 2020

Soroptimist International Africa Federation SIAF

Soroptimist International President, Sharon Fisher welcomes the incoming SIAF President Connie Mutuhnu of SI Vabatsiri (Zimbabwe), and the new SIAF Board, saying: “I am thrilled to announce a true milestone in the history and future of our global organisation. As we approach our 100th year – our ‘bright past and brilliant future’ will take the spotlight – a time for all to recognise and reflect on our journey, and to celebrate the days to come. The Soroptimist International Africa Federation speaks and advocates for women and girls in Africa; committed to closing the gender gap, and accelerating opportunity and change for women and girls in health, education, and empowerment. I would like to take this opportunity to thank and applaud all those who have worked so tirelessly, with passion and astonishing commitment, paving the way to this glorious achievement; we support you, we are with you, and we join you in your celebrations today”. 

Read more from Soroptimist International