Soroptimist are women AT their best, working to help other women BE their best.




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Why Women & Girls

The roots of Soroptimist were actually, unknown to anyone at the time and still seldom recalled, in Buffalo, NY in 1911. In that year the first Optimist Club was formed, a men’s service club whose mission was to “Bring Out the Best in Kids”. The first club was so successful that it was decided to promote the chartering of new clubs in other cities around the country. So, in 1921 an entrepreneur named Stuart Morrow visited the San Francisco Bay Area of California in search of leaders who might be enticed to charter either an Optimist or Rotary club, since he had interests in promoting both.


In Oakland, Mr. Morrow called on the Parker-Goddard Secretarial School. Presuming men ran the business, Morrow found to his surprise that the school was owned by Miss Mabel Parker and Mrs. Adelaide Goddard, and not by men at all. As Morrow explained his mistake and was about to leave, Mrs. Goddard remarked “When the men admit women as members of their service clubs, I would be interested”. This remark sparked an idea for the entrepreneurial Mr. Morrow, and he got together several of the outstanding businesswomen in Oakland to pursue the idea of forming a service club for women.


The preliminary meeting was held Tuesday, May 31, 1921, at 4 p.m., in the Rose Room of Hotel Oakland. Of the six women in attendance only one, Adelaide Goddard, is recorded as showing real interest. Undeterred, Mrs. Goddard immediately began recruiting her acquaintances. Less than a month later, on June 21, the historic First Meeting of Members Committee Luncheon, comprised of 10 women, met at the Hotel Oakland to officially launch the club. The core group met once a week, and in three short months they had gathered the support of 80 women in Alameda County, the number stipulated by Mr. Morrow as minimum to form a charter club. The group also chose the name Soroptimist for the organization at this time, which historical Soroptimist records list as a word coined from the Latin “soror”meaning sister and “optima” meaning best, which was interpreted as The Best of Women. In current usage Soroptimist is interpreted as Best for Women. This change shifted the focus away from the early qualifications for Soroptimist membership to the lives of the women and girls whose betterment is the worldwide Soroptimist mission.


The Articles of Incorporation of this first county-named Soroptimist Club of Alameda, were filed and signed by Stuart Morrow in Sacramento, September 26, 1921. The charter contains the names of the first club officers: President-Violet Richardson; Treasurer-Nellie M. Drake; Directors-Edna B. Kincaid, Doris C. Tilton, Gladys R. Leggett, Blanche Rollar and Adelaide Goddard. At the bottom of the document are the names of the 80 professional women required to file the charter. Significantly, the charter designated that additional clubs would be founded and operated throughout the United States, with the principal business of ALL clubs transacted in Oakland. This immediately set the precedent for an arm of control and cohesion as the organization grew, represented today by Soroptimist International, Inc. located in Cambridge, UK.



The presentation of the Charter and the officer installation ceremony took place in formal style at the Hotel Oakland a week later, on October 3, 1921. This installation date, October 3, is officially celebrated as Soroptimist Founders Day.


The real significance of this first-ever women’s service club may today be underappreciated, but at the time it was revolutionary. By the beginning of the 1920s women in North America had established themselves in the political arena through suffrage, and in the professional world as a result of World War I. But the idea of a service club exclusively for women was unheard of. Thus with the advent of this first Soroptimist club a major social divide had been bridged.


One of the most notable facts about the charter is that Mr. Morrow was the only signer. History also records that Mr. Morrow named himself as originator, founder and general manager of the corporation, retaining 90% of the voting power, property rights, and interest in the corporation. In other words, he owned Soroptimist. This, of course, had to change.


Following the organizing of this first, county-named Soroptimist Alameda Club, Mr. Morrow began to fulfill the vision of an international Soroptimist organization. He started, however, by chartering three additional important and influential national clubs in 1922: San Francisco on March 6, Los Angeles on July 19, and Washington, D.C. on November 27. This accomplished, the enterprising Mr. Morrow, who was familiar with Great Britain and Europe from having promoted Rotary Clubs there some years earlier, crossed the Atlantic. In England he organized the Greater London Club in 1923, with Kathleen, Vicountess Falmouth as Founder President and 112 Charter members. The London Club installation was reported to be the social event of the season, attended by 250 people, including members of the British Royal family.


In 1924 Mr. Morrow went on to Europe, and organized the Soroptimist Club of Paris. The Founding President there was Dr. Suzanne Noel, who later went on to become the first President of the European Federation.


At this point the existing clubs had charters, but they did not own their organization. This untenable situation could not stand, and in 1927, just six years after the Alameda founding club was chartered, Morrow agreed to sell all rights, title and interest in the name Soroptimist, and all rights in the corporation for $5,500. Eight clubs cooperated to underwrite the purchase, including clubs in Great Britain and Europe. The $5,500 purchase price may sound reasonable or even a bargain today, but this was 1927, and women were not making significant salaries. The world was still reeling from World War I (1914-18), the 1919 pandemic influenza epidemic that killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide, and the U.S. was gripped by the wild stock market gyrations that two years later, in 1929, would result in the Great Depression. Times were anything but perfect for acquisition. But early Soroptimists worldwide recognized the pressing need to control their organization, and all contributed to the purchase price in spite of these catastrophic events. From this point forward Soroptimist showed steady and determined growth towards the emulated global organization it has become today.


Another noteworthy historic event took place in 1927, when the First World Conference of Soroptimist Clubs was held in Washington, DC. At this conference the American (SIA) and European (SIE) Federations were formed, as was Soroptimist International (SI), to provide the essential link between all present and future clubs. Other significant milestones at this conference were the decision that Soroptimist International Conventions be held every four years, and adoption of the Soroptimist emblem for the member pin. Designed by Anita Houtz Thompson of the Oakland Club, the original casting of the pin is today on display at SIA Federation headquarters in Philadelphia, PA. In subsequent years the design has been changed a number of times, in an attempt to reflect international as well as developed country’s women’s attire.


Soroptimist continued its Federation growth when in 1934, eleven years after the first world convention; Great Britain and Ireland broke away from SI Europe to form the Federation of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI). Another forty-three years were to pass before 1978, and the founding of The Federation of the South West Pacific (SISWP), with Mary Whitehead as its First President. And with this addition the current four SI Federations were complete.In 1978 a major structural change was made in SIA Federation’s Pacific Region, to which SISD belonged. With 168 clubs, this Region was the Federation’s largest, and it was decided to divide it into three Regions, which were named Desert Coast (DCR), Golden West (GWR), and Camino Real (CRR). The Desert Coast Region, to which SI San Diego now belongs, was further divided into 3 Districts, with SISD in District III. The Desert Coast Region today remains one of the largest in SIA, consisting of approximately 1400 members in 47 clubs.


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  Researched and written by SI San Diego member Anna M. Curren, October, 2010 permission to use granted March, 2016