Soroptimist International celebrates 100th anniversary
Special to The Union
This month, Soroptimist International of Grass Valley is starting its celebration of Soroptimists International’s 100th Anniversary. The world’s largest women’s service organization, which began in Alameda County on Oct. 3, 1921, started under some pretty odd circumstances. Soroptimist literally means “best for women,” but the first clubs were started by a man.
Many people are surprised that a women’s organization includes a man in its origin story. Stuart Morrow was the man behind the idea and helped propel the first clubs to their founding. He was born in Dublin, Ireland and emigrated to California in 1885, becoming a member of the San Francisco Rotary club in 1908. Soroptimist tradition says he was in the process of organizing another club in the area when he walked into the Goddard-Parker Secretarial School in Oakland, expecting to find potential male members. A conversation with one of the co-owners, Adelaide Goddard, led to the idea for a women’s club similar to Rotary.
With all his experience as an organizer, Morrow was able to start this new women’s club fairly easily. He still had ties with Rotary, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, which helped him find prospective members among the business and professional women in the community. Morrow may have undertaken the original work to actually form a club of women from the professions and business in Alameda County, but it was the women themselves who gave Morrow the idea, and who actually worked together with him to establish the first Soroptimist club in Alameda County.
Similar to Rotary, the new club looked for members working in a high-ranking position in their field, and gathered to learn about each other’s professions and businesses, and be of a service to their fellow members and their community. The original members worked in a variety of fields including medicine, food service, clothing, personal care and printing. A diverse membership would become something very important to Soroptimist as the original club was formed, and as they formed more clubs later. By October of 1921, eighty women signed onto a charter for the first Soroptimist Club, in Alameda County (Oakland). International clubs were so much a priority for one prospective member, Violet Richardson, that she refused to sign the charter until she had Morrow’s promise that there would be international clubs as well.
Morrow made good on his promise to Violet and headed to Europe to establish clubs there. The first international Soroptimist club was chartered in London in February 1924. When Morrow went to Paris in 1924, women did not yet have the right to vote. In a letter back to the states, he explained that many unmarried women were not allowed to go out without a chaperone, and there were not as many professional women to join a club like this. He asked if any stateside members could send him names of connections that might help with getting more women to join.
Now with five federations throughout the world, Soroptimist International thrives, as its members seek and work toward a better world for women and girls. If you’d like to be a member of a premier women’s service club, Soroptimist Int of Grass Valley would love to have you join. Information can be found at the SIGV website http://www.sig.org, their Facebook page or by contacting Gale Pylman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynn Mehren-Costa is the president Soroptimist International of Grass Valley
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