Soroptimist International of Williamsburg celebrated its 63rd Anniversary this year. Thank you Williamsburg for supporting us and helping to enhance the lives of women and girls in our local community and throughout the world!
Soroptimist International The first Soroptimist club was formed in 1921 in Oakland, California, by a group of business and professional women who were interested in volunteer service but who were prohibited from joining all-male service organizations. The name Soroptimist-a coined term interpreted as "best for women", was chosen for the new club. Other clubs quickly formed in North America, and in 1923 the first club in Europe was established. The first clubs provided women business owners, managers and professionals in different occupational areas the opportunity to meet, and to work together in their communities. In 1928, the individual Soroptimists clubs in North America banded together to create a federation of Soroptimist clubs, now called Soroptimist International of the Americas.
As Soroptimist clubs spread throughout North America in the years before World War II, they attracted outstanding women in the community, such as Bertha Knight Landes, the first woman elected as the mayor of a major American city (Seattle in 1925 and Mercy Ellen Crehan of Vancouver, British Columbia, the first woman certified accountant in Canada. Soroptimist projects and programs often focused on providing assistance to other women in the community, especially in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The war years provided additional opportunities for Soroptimists to assist women. For instance, one project focused on providing assistance to the Lanchow Nursing School in China, while others assisted women in gaining employment.
In the aftermath of World War II, Soroptimist began extending membership into communities in Central and South America. The first club outside of North America was formed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At this time, members also began contributing one penny for each year of Soroptimist's existence to the Founders Week fund (now the Program Service Fund), which provided fellowships to women working in rare, distinctive and pioneering fields. Soroptimist also sponsored the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania during the 1950s with a $25,000 fund, and later sponsored research at the University of Toronto on the plight of the white-collar woman worker.
Following the expansion of membership to women in Japan, Korea, and the Phillipines in the 1960s, Soroptimist began to develop additional programs to assist women. In 1972, the Women's Opportunity Awards were established to provide cash grants to increase the job skills for women who are the sole source of financial support for their families. The celebration of International Women's Year in 1975 and the U.N. Decade for Women 1975-1985 sparked the formation of what is now called the Ruby Award for Women Helping Women program, which recognizes women who work to improve women's economic, legal and societal standing.
During the 1990s, and into the 21st century, Soroptimist consolidated its programming to focus solely on improving the lives of women and girls. The Women's Opportunity Awards continues to be the organization's major service project. The Violet Richardson Award - named for the first president of the first Soroptimist Club - was established to recognize outstanding volunteer efforts of young women ages 14-17.
The elimination of domestic violence againt women became a major focus, and included compiling a legislative guide on domestic violence programs in Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Philippines received funds to help improve access to services for women in those countries, and programs in lower Manhattan received significant funding following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Clubs now participate in the Soroptimist Workplace Campaign to End Domestic Violence, an annual event targeting domestic violence as a workplace concern.
The Soroptimist organization also provides grants to clubs for innovative community programs that improve conditions for women and girls. There is also a Disaster Relief program to assist women in areas of the world stricken by tragedy.
After more than 80 years providing projects and programming that benefit women in communities all over the world, Soroptimist continues to prove itself as the "best for women".