Soroptimist History

Notable Dates in the Development of Soroptimist International

1921 1924
First Soroptimist club founded in Oakland, California. The Founder President was Violet Richardson-Ward. Chartering of first Soroptimist club in London. The Founder President was Viscountess Falmouth. Suzanne Nöel founded SI Paris, the first Soroptimist club in Europe. She later became the first President of the European Federation.


Foundation of American and European Federations. Soroptimist International Association created to provide link between the Federations.


Europe and Great Britain & Ireland form separate Federations.


First Soroptimist club in Sydney, Australia.


Soroptimist International Association awarded Consultative status with UNESCO.


SI awarded category C Consultative status with ECOSOC. (Economic & Social Council, United Nations.)


Foundation of International governing body of Soroptimist International.

1977 1978

Soroptimist International of Woodbridge Chartered

Maureen Weeks was elected SI of Woodbridge's first President

Inauguration of SI South West Pacific Federation. The Founder President was Mary Whitehead. SI Woodbridge attended their first Spring Conference.


SI granted Category 1 Consultative status (now General Consultative Status) with ECOSOC.

The First Club

Stuart Morrow
Stuart Morrow

Stuart Morrow, a professional organizer with a number of other talents to his credit, organized the Soroptimist Club of Alameda County in 1921.

During a sojourn in the East Bay while attempting to form an Optimist club in Oakland, he called upon the "Parker-Goddard Secretarial School" in search of a candidate for membership. He explained his purpose for calling, talking several minutes. Presuming that the school was run by two men, he was surprised to learn that, instead, it was operated by women. He sought to excuse himself. It was then that Adelaide E. Goddard commented, "When the men admit women as members of their service clubs, I would be interested."

This remark sparked an idea for Mr. Morrow. He called together several of the outstanding business women in Oakland to pursue the idea of forming a service club for women. The preliminary meeting was Tuesday, May 31, at 4 p.m., in the Rose Room of Hotel Oakland.

Hotel Oakland

The chosen name -SOROPTIMIST - was coined from two Latin words: SOROR and OPTIMUS. Soror-Sister: the companion word to brother, symbol of the bond of comrades. Optimus-The Best, the Highest Good: from this word comes Optimism, the philosophy that all works out to promote the highest good. Hence it became interpreted to mean "the Best, or the Highest Good for Women," and more popularly in recent years as "The Best for Women".

The Articles of Incorporation of the Soroptimist Club were filed by Stuart Morrow in Sacramento, State of California, July 1, 1921. Signed by himself, Sarah Jane Fearn, Oakland, and Cecilia Waldron Heaton, Berkeley, they specified the patriotic, civic, moral, social, personal purposes, and advantages for members; designated that clubs would be founded and operated throughout the United States, with the principal business transacted in Oakland, the terms for the corporation to exist being 25 years; and named himself as originator, founder and general manager of the corporation, therefore having 90 percent of the voting power, property rights, and interest of the corporation.

(According to the fundamental principles of the movement, membership was to be open to but one woman in each classification of business and profession.)

Meantime, formulation plans were going on. A "preliminary" meeting, held May 31 at 4 p.m., in the Rose room of Hotel Oakland, brought little results, evident by the fact that of the seven women present, none except Mrs. Gladys H. Barndollar, were on the charter member list; nor did they attend any of the other pre-charter meetings.

First Meeting Of Members

Adelaide E. Goddard
Adelaide E. Goddard

A second gathering, noted as the "First Meeting of Members - Committee Luncheon" - held in a "private room upstairs in the Venus Cafe in Tuesday, June 21, 1921 at 12:15 p.m.", proved successful, as eight of the nine women in attendance became the "leaders" that were needed. Those eight and their classifications were:

  • Mrs. Gladys H. Barndollar, Multigraph(ing) Letter Co., principal
  • Mrs. Doris C. Tilton, Marinello Skin and Scalp Specialist, principal
  • Mrs. Adelaide E. Goddard, Parker-Goddard Secretarial School, principal partner
  • Miss. Grace M. Wetterhall, Real Estate, principal
  • Mrs. Lillian Blake, Art Dealer, proprietor
  • Mrs. Mary Hughes Patterson, Piano Teacher, principal
  • Dr. Mae Green Lineker, Optometrist, principal
  • Mrs. L. Blanche Rollar, Corsets and Blouses, proprietor Charter Member

First Soroptimist Club In The World

+(Although not the first to pay her dues, Mrs. Barndollar obviously was the "ringleader" among all of these members. Her name was on every attendance list, including the "preliminary" meeting. She was chairman of the first reception committee, a member of the inaugural banquet committee and a "group" captain (groups formed to inspire attendance during beginning months of the club) for various periods of time. Later records show her as club president, 1931-32 and regional (district) secretary, 1932-34.)

With the help of Mr. Morrow, these women outlined the plans for organizing the club. With assistance from Chambers of Commerce, Rotary clubs, school superintendents and others, Mr. Morrow gathered names of prominent business and professional women as potential members. A number of them were invited to luncheon meetings that were being held weekly at the Hotel Oakland; some were invited as speakers.

From this group and other women, whose names had been submitted by the original "eight", came the charter members of the club, including Violet Richardson (Ward), who we cherish today as our "Founder President". (She has told numerous times how she was invited as a speaker and later elected by breaking the tie-vote by voting for herself). She was the guest speaker on July 25; her name was added as a paid member on August 4 and as present on August 8 for the sixth regular luncheon meeting. The minutes of the election meeting don't show her "breaking the tie" but do say, "Upon a ballot being taken, Miss Violet Richardson was elected president of the club and Mrs. Sue L. Ballard, vice-president."

Violet Richardson

When 80 women, representing as many classifications of businesses and professions, had signed the charter, it was closed. Election of club officers took place on Monday, September 26, 1921 at the "first annual meeting", as mentioned the above, naming to serve with the president and vice president: Nellie M. Drake, treasurer; and directors, Miss Edna B. Kinard, Mrs. Doris Tilton, Mrs. Gladys R. Leggett (Penland), Mrs. Blanche Rollar and Mrs. Adelaide Goddard. (A newspaper clipping dated Aug. 24, but not giving the year, shows a photo of Mrs. Goddard, who had originally sparked the idea, as "corresponding secretary of the Soroptimist club, a woman's group organized on lines similar to the Rotary club.")

Dues were set at this annual meeting as $1.50 per month. "Stuart Morrow, managing director, presided and was assisted in conducting the ballot by Mrs. Ormsby (who was admitted as a charter honorary member, making the charter list actually number 81), Mrs. Barndollar, Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Rollar, Mrs. Flippen and Mrs. Boyd. The secretary was to be appointed by the board of directors, which took place at its first meeting and named Mrs. Helena M. Gamble "at a salary of $25 (twenty-five dollars) per month."

The officers were installed and the charter presented at an inaugural banquet in the West room of Hotel Oakland on Monday evening, October 3, 1921. The new board held its first meeting immediately following the banquet.

Thus the first Soroptimist Club in the World was organized, with Miss Violet Richardson of Berkeley as its charter president.

Letters From The Members

Helena M. Gamble, the first Soroptimist Secretary, later became 'Historian for Life'

The foregoing quotes are directly from a 7x8 1/4" Standard Diary, which was among two boxes of materials from the personal files of Helena Gamble, who later became federation historian, "for the remainder of her life." In Stuart Morrow's own handwriting, this small black book records all of the regular luncheons, including the annual meeting, that were held prior to the inaugural dinner, the record of payment of dues by the members, verifying the 81-member charter list, including three associates and the one honorary; minutes of the election and charter meetings and the board meeting following.

Along with this book are letters to and from the organizer and his assistant and copies of much of the correspondence that went toward setting up both the 1926 meeting in Oakland and the 1927 sessions in San Francisco. They explain his absence from both of these meetings.

Early historians of most of the first 230 clubs in the federation (some very brief and others in good detail) are among these documents, which also reveal many of the problems, disputes, pleasures and accomplishments of the early Soroptimists.

These artifacts were given by Helena Gamble to Harriet P. Tyler, charter member and past president of the Soroptimist Club of San Francisco and past federation secretary and president (1942-44). She passed them to Southwestern's past regional director, Alta Hengy of Oroville, who in turn gave them to Past Governor Matie Barker in 1970, after learning how enthused she was over the then forthcoming Golden Jubilee and the history of Southwestern Region. "I've tried to give them to others," Past Director Alta told the then governor, "but no one seemed to place the value on them that I feel you will." ...You may well believe she was right, as they have proved to be some of the most valuable information available in writing this early history of the Soroptimist organization.

Eloise B. Cushing, one of the architects of the first club's constitution and bylaws

On October 10, at noon, just a week following the installation ceremony, the first official meeting was held. President Violet commented in her president's report, "We began and closed on time and have continued the practice throughout our charter year."

Members informed and reminded of programs for each meeting. Publicity was good. The club's constitution and bylaws, as drafted by Eloise B. Cushing, Emily D. Wilkie and Dr. Pauline Nusbaumer, were accepted on November 21, 1921.

Soroptimist Services

When first organized, the Soroptimists met as a luncheon or friendship club, according to the first president's report, but not for long. President Violet was presiding at an inter-service council meeting, when Monroe Deutsch, vice-president of the University of California, Berkeley, suggested that these clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, Soroptimist and Optimist) should exist for service, rather than merely for friendship.

From that day on, SERVICE was the KEY word for SOROPTIMISTS. The stated purposes of the club then were "to foster the ideal of service as the basis of all worthy enterprise and to increase the efficiency of its members in pursuit of their occupations by broadening their interests in the social, business and civic affairs of the community through an association of women representing diverse vocations."

The first president's report further reflects that the projects during the first year included a "Save the Redwoods" campaign, a heating plant for the Rescue Home, establishment of a vocational guidance bureau in cooperation with the YWCA, which later was made a branch of the California Employment Service; and care of three destitute families at Christmas.

Since women from cities other than Oakland were invited to membership (8 or 10 from Berkeley, one from Alameda, all others from Oakland), the club was called the Soroptimist Club of Alameda County. In 1928, when the Berkeley club was chartered, most of the Berkeley women who had been members of the Alameda County club had been transferred to Berkeley, including Charter President Violet Richardson (Ward). The Alameda County Club then became the Soroptimist Club of Oakland, also known at "the Mother Club".

The Growth Of Soroptimist

The idea of Soroptimism grew rapidly. Mr. Morrow traveled extensively to organize other clubs. The Founder club was a good pattern for him to follow, both in organization and bylaws.

The San Francisco club was chartered by him, March 6, 1922, followed in the same year by clubs in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Having "personally carried Rotary across the ocean to other lands several years previously," at the very beginning of organizing the Alameda County club, Mr. Morrow had visions of an international Soroptimist organization.

It was impossible for him to do all the organizing alone. So, on July 21, 1922, a memorandum of agreement was signed appointing Violet Richardson, Dr. Fannie Williams and Oda Faulconer, presidents of the Soroptimist Clubs of Alameda County, San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively, as directors of the Soroptimists Club, Inc., for the purpose of organizing Soroptimist clubs within California. It also fixed initiation fees for new club charter members at $15, with one-half going to him, one-third to the club, the remaining $2.50 going to establish an extension fund.

Because of pressure of family and employment, these women were unable to travel to any great extent, so they hired Helena Gamble, a charter member of the Alameda County club who also was a professional organizer and campaign manager, to do the organizing of clubs within the state, which she did until 1927.

This freed Mr. Morrow to organize more clubs on the east coast and to travel to Europe, where he organized the Greater London, England, and Paris, France clubs within 1924. When the club was organized in London, it became the social rage for the season; the charter meeting was attended by 250, including members of the Royal family.

A May 19, 1926 agreement between Mr. Morrow as managing director and Mrs. Gamble denoted her as field organizer to develop clubs outside of California (at least two each year, herself), train appointees to do the work in each state and report not less than once a month, in full detail, to the managing director. It set a $20 charter member initiation fee, of which $10 would go to the field organizer for her expenses; $2.50 to the managing director, $2.50 to a sub-organizer and $5 to the individual club's organization expenses.

In a letter to the first federation president, Helena stated that when she "arranged with the three Soroptimists presidents to organize clubs, in 1923, they felt Mr. Morrow had gotten too much money", so she organized within California for $7.50, one-third going each to Mr. Morrow, the local club's treasury and to her for all expenses, including traveling and hotels ... a small sum, considering "that I was one year organizing the San Jose Club and made a trip there every week, you can readily see that it cost Helena several hundred dollars."

Photos, etchings from Soroptimist International of the Americas archives