Soroptimist International History


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 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.

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.

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.
This early action set the precedent for future Soroptimist involvement n legislative advocacy, and its subsequent relationship with the United Nations.
This was the original intent of service and is the way it has progressed in all Federations.

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 Europe

Dr. Suzanne Noël a prominent French cosmetic surgeon, was the founding president of the Soroptimist club in Paris in 1924.
She traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia using her lecturing series to share the Soroptimist concept and message, founding new clubs in countries that were sorely lacking in recognizing professional women’s contributions to society.
Dr. Noël was the single most important figure in the founding of one of the most prominent women’s organizations in Europe and tending for years to its growth and stability. She set an unrivaled record by establishing a dozen clubs around the world, thus widely spreading the concept of Soroptimist International.

It was therefore fitting that Dr. Noël was elected to be the first President of the European Federation of Soroptimist International in 1930. Her constant dedication to Soroptimist, which she often referred to as her “child,” earned her the designation of “Godmother” of the European Soroptimists. Moreover, it is her work in Soroptimist that helped to define her views from a feminist perspective and where her dedication to the betterment of women can be ultimately understood.
Dr. Noël’s surgery career constituted only a part of how she assisted women in accomplishing independence. The other part rested in her career as a Soroptimist. She was dedicated to helping women achieve independence through a network of support within a public framework. Suzanne was devoted to keeping women in the workforce for as long as possible and she helped to keep them there, first by enabling them to look youthful and capable of working despite the lack of protection or laws against ageism and second by supporting them personally and professionally through her Soroptimist organization.


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 were the decision that Soroptimist International conventions be held every four years from 1930 onwards. The constitution was agreed, and the representative body would comprise the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the two Federations.
It was at this Convention that the “Soroptimist Emblem” was adopted for all members.

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 spends 3 months learning English – she told delegates that it was the greatest sign of friendship she could give them.
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 Conventions

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

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 II.

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.


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 honor 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:

Soroptimist International South West Pacific – 4th Federation
Soroptimist International Sydney club received its charter in 1937 and 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 –