Soroptimist History

Soroptimist was formed in 1921 in Oakland, California, at a time when women were not permitted to join service organizations. Our name, loosely translated from the Latin, means best for women. Today, we have about 30,000 members and supporters in countries across North America, Latin America and the Pacific Rim. We are one of five federations that make up Soroptimist International, which has clubs in more than 120 countries throughout the world.

Soroptimist International consists of Soroptimist International of the Americas, Soroptimist International of Europe, Soroptimist International of Great Britain & Ireland and Soroptimist International of the South West Pacific. Our network of around 72,000 club members in 121 countries works at a local, national, and international level to Educate, Empower and Enable opportunities for women and girls.

The first project was to ‘Save the Redwoods’ – the great ancient trees which were being felled and the club lobbied the legislature, taking on powerful lumber companies, and winning public support, which resulted in a major portion of the forest being set aside as protected land, that still exists today.

By 1937, clubs had been established in Great Britain and Ireland, Europe, and Australia.  During World War II, Soroptimists embarked on rescuing members of the SI Vienna club and their families, threatened by the Nazi regime. American Soroptimists donated funds and clothing and many clubs across Europe were forced to meet clandestinely, making and mending clothes, and preparing all manner of items that were needed. Soroptimists opened Rest Rooms for women in the forces and a New Zealand club set up a refugee relief committee for people escaping from Europe. In 1946 Soroptimists held a reception for delegates to UN conferences, which included Eleanor Roosevelt, and in 1948, the Soroptimist International Association was awarded Consultative status with UNESCO.

The Association was awarded category C Consultative status with ECOSOC (Economic & Social Council, United Nations) in 1950. In 1952 the governing body of Soroptimist International was founded, as it is today.

In 1966, UNICEF granted consultative status to Soroptimist International for service projects for children and in 1975, Soroptimists attended the First UN World Conference on Women which was held in Mexico City.

In 1978, South West Pacific Federation was born and in 1982, for the first President’s December 10th Appeal, Catherine Salt chose the very first President’s Appeal project on the island of Pulau Bidong, Malaysia, helping refugee women and children. Pulau Bidong was the first asylum centre run in co-operation with UNHCR and provided housing, care and maintenance, including medical and social services for refugees awaiting re-settlement. Soroptimist International was granted Category 1 Consultative status (now General Consultative Status) with ECOSOC, in 1984.

To read more about SI representation at the United Nations, please visit SI at the United Nations.

Special thanks to Soroptimist International for the photographs and history.