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Club business: membership, meetings and more

When our club was founded in 1947, we were part of the Soroptimist International Association. However, in in 1973, ‘Association’ was dropped. The change was intended to draw the attention of members to the word ‘International’, encouraging them to think about organising programmes of service outside their own Federation.

This meant that clubs had to change their name to incorporate the change. On 21 January 1974, Whitley Bay club discussed the change of name to Soroptimist International. The majority of members chose to opt for “Whitley Bay Club of Soroptimist International” as the “future mode of title for clubs within our Federation”.  There was an alternative title which is not mentioned. However, the minutes record that members  were “not enamoured of either of the alternatives put forward”.

This section of our history looks more closely how members were recruited and the kinds of things they enjoyed in club meetings, We hope you enjoy the stories.

 

Membership

Joining a club

 Becoming a member of a Soroptimist club was originally by invitation; it was not the ‘done thing’ to ask to join a club. At a meeting of the Whitley Bay executive committee on 08 February 1960, it was noted that a family case worker who lived in Whitley Bay had asked to join the club. The President pointed out that “she must be invited to become a member”.

Even if invited, the decision about which club should issue the invitation could be tricky. In late 1959 to early 1960, the potential membership of a mobile librarian was discussed by Whitley Bay executive committee. The issue was that she lived in Newcastle, the headquarters of her library service was in Bedlington and her work took her into the Seaton Valley. Which club should she be invited to join: Newcastle, Bedlington or Whitley Bay? The choice was not that of the prospective member. The Executive Committee noted on 08 February 1960 that she had been invited to attend meetings at both Newcastle and Bedlington clubs but had not attended and the matter was left in abeyance.

Categories

Members of Soroptimist clubs were allocated to categories of employment/profession and in the early days of our club, these were taken very seriously indeed, to the extent that they could jeopardise an individual’s membership.

 

Problems with categories

Whitley Bay club had to hold an extraordinary executive committee meeting on 04 December 1958 to discuss the position of two members. A representative from the Classifications Committee was also present. One member had been a company secretary but no longer held that position. Therefore, as she herself had said in correspondence, she seemed to be without a category. It was confirmed that this was the case. Although not explicitly stated, this in effect ended her membership and the committee noted that “if in future her position changed, she could apply for new membership”. 

In the case of the second member, she worked in the “Electrical Industry” but it appeared that there was not a category which fitted her employment. She was not, therefore, eligible for membership and she too would have to leave the club. It was agreed that the President would write to the two members informing them of the committee’s decision and suggesting that they “finish at the end of the club year if they so desired”.

In 1960, a member of Whitley Bay club took up employment as a company secretary in a new firm, which raised issues relating to her category. The executive committee which met on 11 April 1960 wanted answers to the following questions in relation to the member’s new job: What is the name of the proposed firm? Has the firm been registered? What working hours would be entailed? Has she the qualifications required for a company secretary? As the firm was not yet registered, it was decided that the matter could not be closed until this had happened; only then would there be a discussion of the member’s category.

 

Unfilled categories were also an issue. At a Whitley Bay club meeting on 05 April 1976, the chairman of the membership committee appealed to members to consider a list of unfulfilled categories and to look for people suitable to fill them. This implies that the club did not have members from a range of employment and professions and the chair went on to say it was important to have a balanced club. This was still an issue in 1982, when a “broad-sheet” was prepared for all members showing the areas where new members were needed.

 

Recruitment 

Concerns relating to recruitment of new members appear in the minutes of Whitley Bay club meetings and executive committee meetings. On 27 June 1988, the executive committee noted that the club’s small number of members was at the root of financial problems and the need for recruitment of new members was paramount. This was also an issue for Tynemouth club and the executive committee discussed ways to encourage new members to join on 01 May 1993. It was noted that “we have been asked to try to get 1 new member for every 10 we have” although who made this request was not recorded.

The records of both clubs show that open nights and membership evenings were being held from the late 1980s to attract women to join but detailed information about such events dates from the early 2000s.  During 2005, SI Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District appears to have worked hard at developing a membership strategy and a group activity was carried out in which members worked together to answer a number of questions to inform this.

 

SI Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District strategy for new members, 2005

 Who: Can you each name a potential new member? Should we make contact to raise the ethnicity of our club? If yes, how? N.B. we need to keep a balance of membership categories. How closely should we observe this?

When: When is the best time for a ‘new member event’? Should we consider some daytime meetings (e.g. school holidays) to increase accessibility to the club?

Where: Where should this ‘New Member’ event take place? Are there any issues related to the current venue?

What: What format should the ‘New Member’ event take? What information would we need for this (posters etc)?

How: Do we generate a list of potential members other than those shown in column one? How do we make contact with the list we have generated? Should we create a website? If yes, who will maintain this?

Other points: Should we put a half page ‘advert’ in the local newspaper? If yes, should we share with Newcastle club? Do we have an updated information sheet for the club? Should we consider leaving leaflets with designated establishments (e.g. breast screening)? Do we target events within the current/new programme for potential new members?

 

Even in 2005, the issue of categories had to be addressed and this question prompted some interesting responses. One group’s response was “we don’t feel we can be that fussy, need to keep club ‘alive’ with new members regardless of category”.  Another noted that previous guidelines (from SIGBI?) suggest that the priority is new members and that while keeping a balance was good, this should never mean the refusal to accept a new member; “categories can usually be adjusted!”

The club went on to hold a membership night during which members talked about why they became a Soroptimist, what being a Soroptimist was like and what work new members could do within the club. During the break, there was an opportunity to look at a display and then everyone joined in a “Chocolate” quiz – which unfortunately did not appear to involve tasting. The membership strategy must have had some success; two individuals identified in the record of the activity are still club members.

In 2006, an open night was held, with a format familiar that that which we now use for the Open Evening in May. This time some familiar names appear as speakers: Jan, Margaret and Shirley are still club members.

 

Membership at risk

As seen above, changes in categories could lead to membership of a club being terminated but this was not the only factor that might require someone to leave a club. The case of a member of Whitley Bay club in 1961 illustrates how the common practice of a women giving up work when she married affected membership.

In January 1961,  Whitley Bay executive committee received a letter from a member tendering her resignation from the club as she had given up her job as solicitor’s managing clerk on her marriage. The President noted she had received a piece of wedding cake. The resigning member had represented the club at the Divisional Union and the Council of Social Service. Presumably keen not to lose an active member, it was agreed that she would be asked to become a Past Service Member and stay on the executive committee until the end of the club year. If she agreed to becoming a Past Service Member, she would also be asked to continue to represent the club on the Council of Social Service. The acceptance of the invitation was recorded at the executive committee meeting on 13 March 1961.

 

Club meetings

No club programmes survive from the 1950s and little discussion took place in meetings relating to planning a programme.  From the minutes of Whitley Bay club, we learn that meetings tended to be very much about business in which correspondence was read out, reports were given, invitations to dinners (of which there were many) were shared and information about fund raising and donations was given.

There were occasional speakers who tended to focus on charities and local services, such as the talk on the Old People’s Welfare Chiropody Service on 19 May 1958 and the Prevention of Fire in the Home on 25 May 1959. Other issues, however, were explored by speakers. One of Whitley Bay club’s first speakers was Mr Charles Mitchell whose talk was entitled “Brotherhood is colour blind”. On 05 February 1957, the topic was “Women in Industry” and the speaker talked about her work in 3 departments of a “Large Establishment” and her 14 weeks of training in America.

 

Speakers

By the 1960s, Whitley Bay club meetings involved speakers on a much more regular basis and topics often related to issues still relevant today. Sometimes the minutes only record who spoke, the title of the talk and the vote of thanks. Sometimes, however, the minute taker recorded details about the talk which provide us with a unique insight into the lives of women.

On 17 April 1961, for example, the speaker was Rev. Ella Gordon from High Howden Presbyterian Church, the only woman in the country to hold such position. Rev. Gordon spoke about the long process of achieving her goal, only reached “after some disappointments”, an experience probably still echoed by women today.

On 15 January 1962, the speaker was Miss Purvis, the manager of the Blyth Employment Exchange who spoke on the employment of married women.  Miss Purvis’ experience suggested to her that married women who worked used to come from “opposite ends of the social scale” such as mill workers and professional women. In the early 1960s, however, women of all classes were working. The motivation for married women seeking work varied. For some it was economic necessity and for others it was custom, for example agricultural and domestic workers. However, some married women wanted to work so that they could afford to buy “modern house equipment”. This period saw growing opportunities to buy things we take for granted such as fridges, washing machines (remember the twin tub?) and televisions and Miss Purvis’ analysis suggests extra income was needed to afford these. She also gives us an insight into the views of the employers. Generally, she said, they preferred to employ unmarried women or failing that, unskilled women with no family ties. This, of course, would mean the employer did not have to address issues relating to women leaving when they married or were pregnant.

Other topics addressed by speakers at Whitley Bay club meetings in the 1960s included the welfare of older citizens in which the guest expressed the view that older people were not valued by the younger and emphasised that society should enjoy the richness of old age. Another topic still very relevant today was the matter of early marriage, including discussion of  forced marriage.

Speakers were also invited to talk on aspects of women’s health. On 22 June 1965, the speaker was from the Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services. Some of the issues she raised are familiar even now, including differences between areas instead of even high standards and severe staff shortages .  She also emphasised that psychological and physical needs were indivisible in maternity services.  The speaker urged members to push politicians to effect improvements and to push local authorities to encourage cervical cancer tests and make them known and available everywhere.

From the late 1960s onwards, the Whitley Bay club minutes no longer record in detail the content of the talks given in meetings. A range of topics were covered including decimal currency, occupational therapy, the work of physiotherapists, rights to privacy, the work of the Newcastle Diocesan Council for Moral and Social Welfare, the Community Health Council,  Crime Prevention, the work of the Samaritans, the opening of St Oswald’s Hospice, the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the issue of cervical cancer. Speakers also presented on the topics of heraldry, philately and Royal Worcester china and there were frequent talks on the nature of Soroptimism.

Speakers at meetings were often club members and a popular theme for their talks was experiences in travelling abroad. Given that in the 1960s, people did not travel as much as we do now, some members were adventurous in their choice of destination; holiday talks, usually accompanied by slides, covered visits to Russia, Yugoslavia, the Caribbean and Curacoa. On 02 October 1967, a member gave “a most entertaining and often hilarious talk” about her holiday in the USA and Canada in “her own inimitable way”.

Two extraordinary speakers on mental health

The professional

On 14 June 1965, the speaker was Dr Quigley from St George’s Hospital in Morpeth (then the Northumberland County Asylum). Dr Quigley talked, clearly with passion which was captured by the minute taker, about the need to regard individuals with mental health problems as people who are ill rather than “demented or criminals”. She explained how modern life could contribute to a decline in mental health so the numbers of people who needed support and treatment was increasing. However, the funds being allocated to research in this field “totally inadequate” and more facilities and specialists were needed. Dr Quigley ended her talk by stressing that Soroptimists could help mould public opinion to accept patients as ill persons.

Dr Quigley clearly made an impression on the Club and the way she was described in the minutes also tells us something about attitudes to successful working women in the mid-1960s. The minutes describe her as “elegant and charming and surprisingly young to have achieved such a responsible and eminent position.”

The patient

Later in the year, on 01 November 1965, the guest speaker gave members of Whitley Bay club a remarkable insight into her experience of treatment and recovery from serious mental health issues. She told the club about her breakdown, which also involved severe abdominal pain. Bed became her only refuge and to emerge and face the world was a real torture. She was treated first with insulin injections and glucose then was admitted to the hospital at The Retreat in York where she then was given LSD treatment. This led to hours of “ceaseless talk when the brain unburdened itself of pent up frustration dating back to childhood before speech had been learnt” while a nurse took notes. The speaker how suddenly one day the pain was gone and she started to fight back. At this point she was given electrical treatment and was eventually discharged after 12 months. In total, it took five years for her “complete cure”. The speaker ended with words which have as much relevance today as they did in 1965, making a plea for:

“understanding and forbearance to those whose lives put heavy pressure upon them mentally, our kindness will often save them unnecessary suffering”

Job talks

These were not very common in the 1960s and 1970s but one stands out in the minutes of the Whitley Bay club meeting on 07 February 1966. Due to the late withdrawal of the scheduled speaker due to illness, one of the members consented to talk about her business, that of a beautician.

She began by telling members that the “cultivation of beauty” involved more than the mere application of cosmetics; good health provided by regular exercise, right eating, absolute cleanliness and keeping a happy state of mind were all an essential basis on which to apply beauty aids. This was followed by tips, a recipe for a lotion to prevent the breaking of fingernails and a demonstration of cosmetics application. It was noted that the whole evening gave members a new, enlightened and invigorated outlook on personal care, both internal and external. The speaker ended by emphasising the beneficial effect of “the betterment of mental outlook as well as personal presentation” in business and professional life.

During the 1980s, job talks become more frequent but not much detail was recorded. Members gave talks about being employed as a draughtswoman employed to plot road accidents in the Tyne and Wear, their job for the Solid Fuel Advisory Service, setting up and running an antiques business, working as a printer, serving in the police force and aspects of teaching (several times).

 

International Nights

These were also common events in the programme in the 1960s and 1970s.. For example, on 04 September 1967, Whitley Bay club’s “Canada Night” attracted about 100 people, including Soroptimists from Darlington, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Morpeth, Penrith, Sunderland and Tynemouth clubs. The main event of the evening was a presentation about the President’s visit to the Toronto Convention and subsequent holiday in Canada.

Another International Night was held on 02 December 1968, which was attended by guests from Norway, Sweden, the West Indies, the Philippines, the Seychelles and the USA. Each guest was asked to talk informally about her country and its customs which led to a “pleasant and interesting evening” enjoyed by all.

The International Night was revived in the 1980s. On 15 November 1983, for example, the guests at Whitley Bay club’s International Night was Dr Syed Nadeem Ahmed from the Tyne and Wear Community Relations Council and “a group of Indian ladies and their families”. The group had formed an education class for children and young people of Indian heritage born in England so they could learn about their culture’s traditional customs, stories, songs and dances. There was a display of dancing and a demonstration of ways of arranging a sari. The group answered questions and then had informal discussion with members over refreshments.

Tynemouth Club held a Romanian Evening on 18 November 2002 and an invitation to this event survives.

 

Romanian evening

Getting ‘hands on’

Practical activities in meetings were few and far between before the early part of the 21st century. A notable exception took place at the meeting on 19 February 1973, when the speaker was an Inspector Garth Robson. His topic was hypnotism which he had studied and practised. He demonstrated his skills on volunteer members but no further details are recorded.

Member participation was encouraged in the Club meeting on 07 May 1973, when an “Out of the Hat” activity was organised. Members whose names were drawn out of a hat had to speak for one minute of a subject which they also drew from a hat.  The activity does not appear to have been repeated.

On 18 January 1983, 23 members and 13 guests enjoyed a demonstration of the Fri-Fri, “a Swiss made electric domestic fryer” during which a number of tasty snacks were cooked. There was, of course, an opportunity to purchase “the utensil” after the demonstration but we don’t know how many members availed themselves of the offer.

 

Club programmes

From the 1990s onwards, the records include annual programmes which give us an insight into themes and interests. The earliest surviving programme dates from 1993-1994.

 

Programme 3
Programme 4
Programe 5
Programme for the first year of the newly united SI Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District
Programme for the first year of the newly united SI Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District

Attendance at meetings

Attendance at meetings was a topic of discussion from the early days of Whitley Bay club The names of members who did not meet the 50% attendance required under club “Bye-Laws, Article 1, Part 2, Section 6” were listed in executive meeting minutes. At the executive meeting on 13 February 1961, it was felt that members who “did not put in the 50% attendance…could not conscientiously allow their names to go forward for election as officers or record votes in favour of members about whose work for the club they were not familiar”. A letter was to be sent to members concerned.

The matter of poor attendance was raised again on 13 March 1961 and the President suggested that this could be partly due to the lack of a friendly atmosphere in the club which had arisen from a clash of personalities of members. She hoped that past differences could be put aside so that members could work together in charity with each other so that the next President had a united club to support her.

Contacting members whose attendance was not sufficient continued into the 1970s.  Members were expected to explain in writing reasons for low attendance. On 20 September 1974, it was decided that active members who failed to meet the 50% attendance requirement and who had sent in no written explanation would be reminded of the expectations of the attendance clause in the constitution.

By 2003, the Tynemouth and Whitley Bay clubs had merged and of course, the number of members meeting together had increased. At the Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and District business meeting on 14 July 2003, there was discussion about the wearing of badges to help everyone get to know each other. It was suggested that members who did not wear their badge should be fined 50p. This idea was proposed and seconded but later a note was added to the minutes to say that the President Elect did not recall whether everyone had agreed to this so it should be taken forward to the next meeting. Personally, she would rather members personally ensured they wore their badges rather than introducing a fine. No more references to fines were found in the records so presumably this never happened.

 

Sponsoring a new Club

On 12 October 1959, Whitley Bay executive committee discussed a request from Mrs Fewster, Extension Officer, to sponsor a club at Bedlington which she hoped to form. Members were concerned to know what this would entail. Former President, Molly Wright, explained that a Liaison Officer would be appointed who would contact a list of people who were willing to become members of a new club, investigate their category and report back to the Extension Officer. There would be no financial expenses for Whitley Bay club. The executive committee agreed to take the proposal to the club meeting on 19 October 1959. After some discussion, the club agreed to sponsor Bedlington and a Liaison Officer was appointed.

At the next club meeting on 03 November 1959, a letter was read from Mrs Fewster expressing her delight at the decision to be Bedlington’s sponsor. She reiterated that there would not be much work for the sponsor club to do, except welcoming prospective members to their club meetings, to assist, when the time arrived, with arrangements for the Charter Dinner and to attend the Inaugural Meeting and make everyone feel “at home”. She stressed, again, that there would be no financial responsibility as everything would be charged to the Northern Divisional Union Treasurer.

The Inaugural meeting of Bedlington club was set for 30 November 1959 and at the Whitley Bay club meeting on 16 November 1959, members were invited to attend. The Liaison Officer suggested that Whitley Bay club could provide refreshments to “show a friendly spirit”. However, there was concern that this might set a precedent and it was also pointed out that it was already minuted that sponsorship would not involve any financial expenditure. The suggestion was not carried.

Bedlington club’s Charter Dinner was held in September 1960. Perhaps mindful of the emphasis on sponsorship not having any financial implications for Whitley Bay club, the Liaison Officer had raised money by making and selling jam and marmalade and at the club meeting on 06 September 1960, she announced that she would like the funds to be used for a gift for Bedlington. In anticipation of the meeting, the Liaison Officer had with her a gavel on approval which was handed round for inspection. It was agreed “that this would make a most acceptable gift” and that it should be inscribed “Soroptimist Club of Bedlington from Soroptimist Club of Whitley Bay 1960”.

 

Club development  

Soroptimists reflected on the nature of their club and how it could be developed or improved, as we still do in the form of our club Development Plan.  On 25 May 1983, the President of Whitley Bay club reported to the executive committee the suggestions made by members in relation to the club’s development. These included: more practical service; the urgent need for recruiting new members; more social events; sub-committees to involve all members; a list of sub-committee chairmen for all members; a wider variety of speakers; more outings. There was also discussion about “extending a friendly hand to members in times of trouble” and it was agreed that ways would be found to visit and support such members.

The nature of Soroptimism was debated by Whitley Bay club in 1986 during a debate about equal opportunities. The President on 20 October 1986 advised members that “we should be careful that Soroptimists are not thought of as a feminist group”. This prompted discussion on whether women were really equal but the issue of feminism does not appear to have been debated again.

In January 1994, Tynemouth club was undertaking a significant progress review, which may have been a Federation initiative. Responses from the club to a series of questions were recorded in the executive committee meeting on 04 January 1994.

 

Progress Review of Tynemouth Club, Stage 2 enquiry

(1) What is the most important work undertaken by your club since August 1991?

Answer: working for Sight Savers and local environmental issues

(2) Make one suggestion for each existing programme area for 1995-1999.

Answer:

Environment: further recycling and to encourage all shoppers to take their own bags

Health: further guidelines on genetic engineering; regular health check

Advance of women: more support for working mothers

International Goodwill and Understanding:  exchange visits with clubs abroad

Education: improve discipline in schools; give more support to teachers

 

On 02 March 1998, the President of TynemouthcClub reported that she was looking into the possibility of setting up a website, the first reference found to Soroptimists considering the use of technology to promote the club’s activities. By 30 March 1998, the website was reported to be “in hand” although nothing seems to have been put in place. On 06 July 1998, the executive committee discussed more traditional ways of getting the work of the club out into the community by having an exhibition on the Library and Mercantile Building Society.