Soroptimist International of San Diego History
San Diego's First Soroptimist Club
Soroptimist International of San Diego (SISD) began the way all new SI Clubs begin, by being sponsored by an already existing club. The first Charter Club was started in Oakland, CA in 1921. By 1931 clubs had already formed southward throughout the State, and on April 25, 1931, SI Los Angeles sponsored SI San Diego - San Diego's first Soroptimist Club. Region Director Blanche Edgar of Sacramento presented the Club Charter to Edna Gillespie, who was the Founding President. The San Diego Club had 26 charter members.
The inaugural event was carried out in high style, with a dinner at the El Cortez Hotel, which at that time was one of San Diego's best. A large delegation of additional Soroptimist members from Ventura, Santa Paula and Pasadena also joined in the festivities. Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly given that Soroptimist was one of the first exclusively women's service clubs in the United States, SISD members were first referred to, as in the attached San Diego newspaper clipping, as "Feminine Rotarians". The novelty of a woman-only service club apparently befuddled the males of the city, most certainly it did the journalists who wrote about it.
The first club meetings were held on Tuesdays at the El Cortez Hotel, after which the members purportedly could show their Soroptimist membership card and get free taxi rides anywhere in town. It's difficult to imagine that this largess endured for very long as the organization grew and the years went by. But what a way to start!
Next we jump five years ahead to 1936, when President Ellen Murray wrote "Through all these years we constantly and consistently kept working and raising money for our projects: Equal Rights, housing for the unadjusted woman, and world peace.... Our musicales (a music program forming the main part of a social occasion) continued to be our method of raising funds." Just four years later in 1940 SISD sponsored the El Centro Club, the first of the 36 neighbor clubs sponsored by SISD to date.
Four more years pass, and in 1944 under President Evelyn Fraser meetings were still being held at the El Cortez. While today's SI members worldwide come to meetings dressed as the business, professional or community leaders most of them are, in 1944 SISD members came to the noon meetings complete with hat and gloves, while evening meetings required long gowns. Did SI members actually eat at these evening meetings? The best guess is that they did so in as high a style as they dressed.
Twelve years later in 1956 Emily Ziegler, one of the original charter members of SISD and club president in 1937, was recognized in The San Diego Union as follows: "Stand up for San Diego clubdom, for Emily Ziegler of Mission Beach. Last night in New York she assumed the most important position ever held by a San Diegan in organized women's activities. She was elected president of the American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs".
Also in 1956 President Irma Wible wrote "There is no area left untried which we explored for financial support of our projects - fashion shows, dog shows, rummage sales, hat shows, car washes, variety shows, table decoration contests, even making a tape of the Alpha-Beta theme song for radio."
Seventeen more years pass, and in 1973 SISD's Jeanette Peterson took the lead to chair the committee for the first of 38 annual fashion shows that became a staple of SISD fundraising activities. About 450 people came to the first show, tickets were $6 and the club raised $1,250."Swing into Spring" was the theme for the final fashion show in 2009, that was held at the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel.
Three years later in 1976 Rilla Lovell was our President, and we presented the International Flags to the Aerospace Hall of Fame. SISD Member Lyal Rogers wrote, "The Marine Corp Band played and city dignitaries thanked us. It was an occasion that made you glad to be a Soroptimist and an American." In conjunction with the Center City Association, the San Diego's "Woman of Accomplishment" award program was inaugurated this same year.
In 1987 we established a Friendship Link with SI Yokohama Higashi, Japan. And in 1993 our Friendship Link with SI Istanbul, Turkey, resulted in a joint project when we wired $1,000 to purchase a loom and pay for materials for women in Ezerum to make a carpet. The carpet was sent to SISD to sell. With the proceeds from the sale we were able to wire money for another carpet to be made. Under the direction of the SI's International Goodwill and Understanding (IGU) Committee, the Turkey Rug Project has to date produced over 20 carpets, and our relationship continues today.
In 2000 under the leadership of President Paula Day, we received a $7,000 "Making a Difference for Women" grant from Soroptimist International of the Americas (SIA) to continue our work with Sisters By Choice, coordinated by the Economic and Social Development Committee.
In 2001 members and guests celebrated the club's 70th birthday at a festive dinner party at the U.S. Grant Hotel. And in 2004 SISD member Victoria Hobbs was installed as President of Soroptimist International of the Americas (SIA) at the biennial convention in Calgary, Alberta. Many SISD members attended to cheer for Vicki, whose participation at the national and international level continues.
Discovery of an Artist
In 2006 SISD had its 75th Anniversary and one of the highlights was the discovery in our club archival records by club historian Paula Day of several beautiful watercolor scenes of San Diego done by artist and SISD member Britomarte Cox in 1936. Note-cards were printed using these scenes for all attendees of the Anniversary event.
Stop Sex Trafficking
On July 11 2008 the first "National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness" was held. Susan Tiefenbrun, PhD, Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, spoke at an SISD program meeting to apprise members of the enormity of trafficking worldwide, and in San Diego in particular. SISD members marched in downtown San Diego and handed out flyers on trafficking. Several days earlier, SISD member Paula Day and a trafficking expert were interviewed on KPBS FM.
In 2010 to celebrate World Water Day, we choose the theme Splash of Fashion for our 38th, and FINAL fundraising fashion show. Since their re-inauguration in 1973, SISD's annual fashion shows raised approximately $600,000. After paying event expenses approximately $190,000 in profits was realized, which was awarded to assist local women with educational expenses.
SISD is tremendously proud of its history and traditions, but what has been impossible to include in this brief historical resume is the the details of the thousands of projects that have been carried on over the years, and the equal number of women and girls whose lives that have been touched and bettered. This is why ALL Soroptimist clubs exist. The fellowship of club members in their missions is both remarkable and exemplary. Hats off to all. To conclude, let's toast the SISD members and web designers who added to our SISD history by putting together our website!