This Day in SIA
The Road to the First Soroptimist Club Meeting
Throughout our year long 100th anniversary celebration, SIA will share pieces of our story, highlighting momentous occasions from our bright past. While some events are large and some are small, they all lead to where we are today—celebrating 100 years!
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Let’s journey back together through time as we reveal events leading up to the very first club meeting, starting with what happened on May 31, 1921.
May 31, 1921
We aren’t sure of the exact date when Stuart Morrow, a past organizer of Rotary clubs, walked into Parker-Goddard Secretarial School in Oakland, California. During that visit, Adelaide Goddard, one of the two women who owned the school, inspired Morrow to consider a club for business and professional women, similar to Rotary. But we are sure when Morrow started the effort to form such a club.
This image from the “Morrow Book” in the Soroptimist Archives documents the formation of the first Soroptimist club. It shows on May 31, 1921, that Morrow was joined at 4:00 p.m. in the Rose Room of the Hotel Oakland by seven women from the community: Mrs. Barndollar, Dr. Robb, Dr. Jump, Miss Porter, Mrs. Hamlin, Miss Rabbas, and Mrs. Adams.
There are no other minutes of the meeting, and of the seven women gathered, only Gladys Barndollar, a printer, went on to become a charter member of the new Soroptimist club.
Gladys Barndollar, one of the women who attended the preliminary meeting on May 31, submitted her membership application on June 11, 1921 (although she did not pay her $15 dues until September), and was one of the nine women who attended the next organizational meeting on June 21, 1921.
This day in SIA history marked the first official meeting of the women’s service group, which still had not been named. Set in a private room at the Venus Café on Tuesday, June 21, at 12:15 p.m., Stuart Morrow met with nine women to discuss the formation of the new club. The club followed the custom of the Rotary Clubs Morrow was familiar with, and limited membership to one representative of each professional classification and designation.
In attendance were Soroptimist charter members:
- Mrs. Gladys Barndollar (Multigraphing)
- Mrs. Doris Tilton (Skin and Scalp Treatment, Principal)
- Mrs. Adelaide Goddard (Business College, Partner)
- Mrs. Grace Wetterhall (Real Estate, Principal)
- Mrs. Mary Hughes Patterson (Piano Teacher, Principal)
- Mrs. Mae Green Lineker (Optometrist, Principal)
- Mrs. Blanche Rollar (Corsets and Blouses, Proprietor)
Other attendees included Mrs. Lillian Blake (Art Dealer, Proprietor), who attended other organizational meetings after paying her dues in June but was mysteriously not listed on the club’s charter; and Mrs. Miller, who did not become a member.
The first regular luncheon to organize the first Soroptimist club was held at 12:15 p.m. on Monday, June 27, in the Blue Room of the Hotel Oakland. Before this day, the group had met on Tuesdays, but Monday became the new meeting day of the week with this meeting.
Organizer Stuart Morrow’s notes from the meeting show the members assembled determined their name badges should be orange with blue lettering. The group also decided not to meet on the Fourth of July holiday.
Members present at the meeting were:
- Mrs. Gladys Barndollar (Multigraphing)
- Mrs. Ruth Boyd (Photographer-Portraits, Manager)
- Mrs. Florence Burrell (Physical Therapeutics, Principal),
- Dr. Mae Green Lineker (Optometrist, Principal)
- Mrs. Mary Hughes Paterson, (Piano Teacher, Principal)
- Miss Lydia Payne (Funeral Director, Assistant)
- Miss Blanche Rollar (Corsets and Blouses, Proprietor)
- Mrs. Ella Taylor (Funeral Director, Partner)
- Mrs. Doris Tilton (Skin and Scalp Treatment, Principal)
Four guests also attended the meeting, and all eventually became members:
- Mrs. Mertie Blewitt (Photographer-Commercial, Partner)
- Mrs. Etta Herrlein (Milliner-Single Piece, Principal)
- Mrs. Sylvia Sternberg (Hemstitching, Pleating and Buttons, Proprietor)
- Miss Sue Ballard (Men’s Hats, Partner)
While we don’t know for certain, it may be that member Ruth Boyd recommended Mertie Blewitt given that both women were photographers. And Blanche Rollar, who was in the garment industry, recommended Sylvia Sternberg—and possibly Etta Herrlein and Sue Ballard—who were also in that industry.
After taking a week’s break in recognition of the Fourth of July holiday, the second regular luncheon of the Alameda County Soroptimist club took place on July 11, 1921, at the Hotel Oakland.
Seventeen members attended this meeting. Of this group, eight members were first-time attendees and nine members* had attended a meeting previously:
- Lillian Blake (Art Dealer, Proprietor)
- Nellie Drake (Caterer, Principal)
- Regina Grassel (Costumer, Proprietor)
- Blanche Rollar*
- Louise Glasier (Dentistry, Partner)
- Lillian Brownridge (Hydro and Electro Therapeutics, Proprietor)
- Sylvia Sternberg*
- Fannie Brake (Ladies Furnishings, Partner)
- Sue Ballard*
- Etta Herrlein*
- Gladys Barndollar*
- Mae Green Lineker*
- Mertie Blewett*
- Mary Hughes Patterson*
- Georgia Ormsby (School Director, Principal)
- Doris Tilton*
- Meta Erickson (Railroad President, Corporate Officer)
The first-time attendees reached into new areas of women’s professional life, including dentistry and art, as well as the only woman railroad president in the world at that time.
Georgia Ormsby served as the meeting’s speaker, and a number of guests attended as well, including the Associate District Attorney, Mrs. Kidd, and Miss Brookman, who was affiliated with the YWCA. Miss Bookman who would be a guest in the future as well. Neither of these women became members, but another named guest, Miss Kinard, a journalist for The (Oakland) Tribune newspaper, later joined in September.
The third regular luncheon during the formation of the Alameda County Soroptimist club was held on this day at the Hotel Oakland.
Sixteen members were in attendance. First-time attendees included:
- Pauline Nusbaumer, M.D. (Laboritarian, Corporate Officer)
- Anna Ihrig (Art Needlework, Proprietor)
- Minnette Perkins (Optician, Corporate Officer)
- Hannah Coates (Publisher-songs and poems, Partner)
They were joined by Lillian Brownridge, Ella Taylor, Lydia Payne, Sylvia Sternberg, Fannie Brake, Nellie Drake, Sue Ballard, Gladys Barndollar, Mertie Blewett, Ruth Boyd, Doris Tilton, and Louise Glasier.
A repeat visitor was Miss Brookman from the YWCA, who also served as the meeting’s speaker. While Miss Brookman would not become a charter member, the connection to the YWCA would be important in a few months, as the newly chartered club embarked on its first club project. Stay tuned for more about that!
The fourth regular luncheon of the Alameda County Soroptimist club was held today at the Hotel Oakland.
As in earlier weeks, the group was still quite small with just 14 members present. Seven members were attending for the first time and seven had attended at least one prior meeting.
Attending for the first time were:
- Sarah Shuey, M.D. (Physician, Principal)
- Lavinia Harris (Automatic Water Heaters “Hoffman”, Partner)
- Maud McDonald (Sheet Metal Contractor, Partner)
- Martha Bytton (Milliner-General, Proprietor)
- Anne Glover (Printer, Proprietor)
- Eloise Cushing (Attorney-at-Law, Principal)
- Jane Sweet (Dancing Teacher, Partner)
Welcoming these new members were Lillian Brownridge, Sylvia Sternberg, Etta Herrlein, Gladys Barndollar, Mary Hughes Patterson, Doris Tilton, and Minnette Perkins.
The addition of two members who were partners (presumably in a family business) in the building trades is noteworthy, and indicative that many family businesses relied on the labor of wives or daughters to manage certain aspects of the business. Lavinia Harris’s membership application shows she was recommended by another first-time attendee, Maud McDonald, as well as Sylvia Sternberg.
The “classification” of members by profession was also showing the ability to stretch. The addition of a Milliner-General (Martha Bytton) came after a Milliner-Single Price (Etta Herrlein) was already among the membership.
This meeting also introduced attendees to two women whose names would become well-known throughout Soroptimist as it grew. Miss Violet Richardson, then unmarried (and as Stuart Morrow noted, “in charge of physical education” with the Berkeley Schools), was the featured speaker that day. And Eloise Cushing, an attorney who would leave her mark on the organization through her skills at writing governance documents, attended for the first time as a member.
The fifth regular luncheon of the Alameda County Soroptimist club at the Hotel Oakland marked the unofficial
half-way point in the club’s development. Stuart Morrow had been working for two months to establish the first club, with another two months to go before it officially chartered. There would be seven more regular luncheon meetings to come as the club focused on member recruitment.
During this meeting, four members attended for the first time: Myrtle Parker (Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar and Hawaiian Instruments, Principal), Sarah Hammond (Cafeteria, Partner), Esther Hoerst (Engineering College, Corporate Officer), and Clara Ferguson (Sanitarium-Christian Science, Proprietor).
In addition, there were 11 returning members: Lavinia Harris, Nellie Drake, Sylvia Sternberg, Lillian Brownridge, Pauline Nusbaumer, Fannie Brake, Sue Ballard, Mertie Blewett, Ruth Boyd, Doris Tilton, and the stalwart Gladys Barndollar. By now, some of the names would be familiar as many had attended multiple meetings, showing a strong affinity for the club—whether to build professional networks or to simply be in the presence of other business and professional women and expand their friendships.
Pauline Nusbaumer, M.D., the corporate officer for a medical laboratory, was the featured speaker. She spoke “on Bacteria,” as noted by Morrow.
The sixth regular luncheon of the Alameda County Soroptimist Club on August 8, 1921, surpassed any of the previous meetings. A record 27 members were in attendance, the largest luncheon held by the club to that date. Twenty of the members had attended previous meetings, and seven new members were welcomed. Members included:
- Hattie Lehnhardt (Confectioner, Proprietor)
- Mira Merriman (Girls’ School, Principal)
- Anna Gilchrist (Furnishings and Carpets, Partner)
- Jane Flippen (Designer of Batiks, Principal)
- Melvina Rushmore (Interior Decorator Consulting, Principal)
- Alice Glaze (Kindergarten, Principal)
This meeting was also the first meeting Violet Richardson (Physical Education) attended as a Soroptimist member! Including Violet, three of the new members were in the education field, and two were involved with interior decoration and furnishings.
Although Ethel Nourse was listed as attending on this page of the Morrow book, a new attendance section of the book stated she would not be in attendance until October. The name of Alice Glaze was left off the list, but included in the attendance area—which shows that often, we need to look at multiple versions of archival documentation to get a fuller picture of what may have actually happened!
The guests at the meeting were also noteworthy. They were Mrs. Kidd, from the District Attorney’s office, Mrs. Power with the State Employment agency, and the deputy sheriff.
The speaker was Mrs. Hattie Jewel Anderson. Mrs. Anderson had recently been appointed as the receiver of public funds in the San Francisco district land office of the United States Department of the Interior. Florence Harding, a close political advisor to her husband, U.S. President Warren G. Harding, had pressed for Anderson’s appointment to a federal position following the 1920 presidential election.
The seventh regular luncheon of the Alameda County Soroptimist Club on August 15, 1921, marked a change in how Stuart Morrow documented attendance. Previously he had always listed the members in attendance along with the “minutes” of the meeting. In early August, with 42 club members listed, he instituted a system of keeping role of the attendees in a chart kept in the inside cover of his workbook (see picture from page of Morrow's book above under August 8, 1921). As new members were added, they were added to the role list, first in a type-written appendage, and then by hand.
Morrow’s minutes of the meeting note 25 members in attendance in addition to himself, along with two visitors. Mrs. Poindexter, the featured speaker, spoke about “lip reading.”
Information regarding the eighth regular luncheon meeting of the Alameda County Soroptimist club is the sparsest that Stuart Morrow provided. Morrow reported 29 members in attendance (although only 27 can definitely be accounted for in his role chart). New members included Florence Cohan (Permanent Hair Remover, Principal) and Adele Mayberry (Hardware). Gladys Williams (Public Accounting) is also listed as attending the meeting as member in Morrow’s roll. She apparently decided to decline membership, as her name is struck out in Morrow’s book, and her name did not appear on the club’s charter. Mrs. Saylor was the featured speaker, but the topic of her presentation as is unknown.
The notes from the ninth regular meeting of the Alameda County Soroptimist Club on August 29, 1921, begin to reveal some of what the members of the new endeavor were thinking. Stuart Morrow recorded that 27 members attended the luncheon, along with two visitors, and the speaker, Mrs. Letitia Andrews. Among the attendees were several new members, including Undine Murdock (Permanent Hair Waving, Principal), Irma Randolph (Professional Singer), and Helena Gamble (Campaign Manager).
Gamble would become one of the most influential founders in the coming years. She worked to charter new clubs with Morrow, and after the federation was formed in 1928, was appointed as its historian. It is to Helena Gamble’s collection of historical documents, which were donated to SIA headquarters in 1996, that we owe our ability to tell the story of the first club’s formation through this blog, and other information on the earliest years of Soroptimist.
During the meeting, Morrow recorded some phrases that should still resonate 100 years later (visible below in the notes):
We meet for "Recognition + Cooperation"
Result = Service
Perhaps the most prophetic statement is the final one inscribed in his notes:
"A big movement has been started by this club."
The Alameda County Soroptimist club met for its 10th regular meeting after breaking the previous week in recognition of Labor Day. Morrow’s notes from this meeting are limited to noting the attendance at 43 members from the register, as well as seven visitors and late members.
Edna Kinard, a “newspaper writer” for the Oakland Tribune, served as the meeting's speaker. While her membership application notes she was on Morrow’s radar as a potential member in August, she paid a portion of her charter fee and attended her first meeting on this day. Morrow quoted Kinard in his notes: “We must know our city in order to boost it.” Even before the club chartered, the club was considering how to make Oakland and Alameda County better by its efforts.
The club was now just two weeks from closing its charter and electing its officers and board. Morrow had stopped noting attendance in his book in any form, and it became more difficult to determine when new members joined the club.
This day marked the 11th and final regular luncheon of the Alameda County Soroptimist club. For the first time, Morrow did not note attendance in any way, and simply stated: “Informal discussion on matters to be voted on on Sept 26th.”
September was a particularly busy time for new members and the final collection of the $15 per member chartering fees which were, in effect, Morrow’s salary for organizing the new club. From the end of August through September over one quarter of the charter members joined the club.
- Mabel Allen (Public Speaking and Dramatic Art, Principal)
- Sarah Ann Barrett (Loan Officer, Principal)
- Waly M. Beltink (Library-Circulating, Partner)
- Edna Brown (Life Insurance, Principal)
- Virginia Diehl (Hair Good & Novelties, Partner)
- Pauline Drennan M.D. (Surgeon, Principal)
- Louise Gans (Public Accountant, Principal)
- Hilda Gascoigne-Coulter (Chiropody-Surgery, Principal)
- Madeline Gibbons (Corsets and Blouses, Partner Associate)
- Helen Glenn (Bakery, Principal)
- Carroll Greenleaf (Building Contractor, Partner)
- Isabel Jenkins (Jewelry, Partner)
- Myrtle Lent (Accompanist, Principal)
- Ettie McCall (Ladies Cloaks and Suits, Partner)
- Margaret Paige (Pianos and Player Pianos, Partner)
- Pearl Rogers (Registered Nurse, Principal)
- Rose Starr (Auto Service and Repair, Partner)
- Edna Sugden (Dressmaker, Principal)
- Ida Theurer (Hotel, Principal)
- Alma Thorne (Bank of Italy, Department Manager)
- Emily Wilkie (Editor University Press, Principal)
- Iva Young (Nurse-Christian Science, Principal)
The members were ready to complete organization and would elect their club’s first leaders the following week.
The “first annual meeting” of the Soroptimist Club of Alameda County was held on September 26, 1921. During the meeting Morrow announced the charter list of members was closed as of that day, with 80 members on the list, and approximately 50 members in attendance.
The main business of the meeting was to elect its board and officers. While Morrow’s minutes of the meeting are very straightforward, and simply note the election of Violet Richardson as president, and Sue Ballard as vice president, we know from statements made later by Violet that she was elected on the third ballot as president, and that Sue Ballard received the next highest number of votes which secured the position of vice president.
Initial decisions by the club included having two separate positions for secretary and treasurer, and to have the secretary appointed by the board (which happened one week later at its first meeting). In a separate ballot, Nellie Drake was elected treasurer.
The members undertook yet another ballot to elect five board members: Edna Kinard, Doris Tilton, Gladys Leggett, Blanche Rollar, and Adelaide Goddard.
This meeting also established the club’s financial footing. While members had paid $15 each to Stuart Morrow in charter membership fees (approximately $230 in today’s dollars) as club organizer and managing director, that money was kept by Morrow. He noted the following in the minutes: “A ballot was taken upon the question as to what would be the monthly dues of the Club and same were by a large majority fixed at $1.50 per month.”
Following a standing vote of thanks by the members of the club for Morrow, the meeting concluded.