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The First Two Decades of SWP

Whilst the ideals of Soroptimist International were spreading across America, Europe, England and Ireland. Way across the Pacific Ocean in Australia a remarkable woman named Edith Glanville, who was one of the first of two women to become a Justice of the Peace in NSW. Edith was actively interested in helping immigrants, her life was dedicated to the service of others, it was about this time in 1921 that Edith formed the first Quota Club in Australia. Edith having traveled to America for a Quota International Conference and attended a meeting held by the American Soroptimists was so impressed by our international aspirations, she returned to Sydney, sent back the Quota charter and formed her band of followers into Soroptimist International Association of Sydney.

Attending to the official paperwork which was required to charter a new Soroptimists club took time as all correspondence having to be done via surface mail, took 3 months door to door, resulted in the actual Charter dinner being held 12 months after Soroptimist Club of Sydney having been formed in 1937.
An entry in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 October 1938 read:

The Soroptimist Club will hold its Charter Dinner on October 27 at Farmers at 7pm when the Charter from the International Federation of the Soroptimist Clubs will be presented. This will be done by proxy, on behalf of the International President, Miss Elizabeth Hawes, will give the welcome speech by means of a record and loud speaker.

World War II added confusion to the operation of the Sydney club, as contact with the British Federation was severely hampered. Edith proudly wore the chain of office for these 8 years. To read more about the history of Edith Glanville see these links

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Soroptimist International was a category club, which meant that clubs could only have one member of a category, but after 5 years another member of the same category could be admitted to the club. The growth of Soroptimist International was quite phenomenal, despite the stringent rules of entry and membership. Tremendous projects were successfully carried out by clubs.

1939 saw Soroptimism arrive on the shores of New Zealand with SI Wellington becoming the first Soroptimist club, but it took until 1949 for SI Christchurch to be charted, followed closely by SI Auckland.

florence rutter

Mrs Florence Rutter centre of the image

We need to pause here and move back to Australia, looking at the history books we can see that between 1948 and 1949 there were 7 clubs chartered in Australia and two in New Zealand, indeed an incredible accomplishment, and all this is thanks to one remarkable woman Mrs Florence Rutter.
Mrs Florence Rutter was the Founder President of the Central London Soroptimist Club, her daughter married and resettled in Australia. In 1946 Florence was to travel to Australia to visit her daughter, having spoken to the British Federation of her trip, Florence worte in December 1946 to the British Federation that she had made contact with the Business & Professional Women in Melbourne, but in February 1947 she reported that she was not at all sure that Melbourne was ready for a Soroptimist Club, but things changed during the early months of 1947, Florence continued to encourage promising women and a meeting was organised for the 8th of July 1947, Florence stayed optimistic about chartering the club before she was to set sail on the Orion for Britain on the 24th of July. Membership fees had been paid and arrangements for the Charter document to be sent from London by the 22nd of July. Unfortunately the Melbourne Club did not charter until 24th of June 1948. Melbourne was Club no 150 in the British Federation. July 1947, Florence wrote to Miss Warner of the British Federation, thanking her for the authority to start a club in Melbourne, and that the club had the promise of a first class club,

Mrs Rutter was to return to Australia, and had sought permission to continue to extend membership in Australia. March 1949 Florence arrived in Perth, Mrs Chandler Secretary of the Melbourne Club, wrote a letter of welcome and noted a name of a women who may be interested in Sorotpimistm in Perth By April Florence was in Sydney waiting anxiously for introductions to prospective members in Brisbane, and wrote of how difficult it was and very uphill work which takes time. Arriving in Brisbane Mrs Rutter personally enrolled 12 new members in 12 days and along with the work by Mrs Maloney the Brisbane club was chartered on the 23rd April 1949.

On to Adelaide, arriving on the 24th of May and 10 days later was posting the petition for charter with 23 names. The Charter dinner was organised for the 24th of June with 38 members, the actual dinner was cancelled owing to a State of Emergency, a luncheon was organised and Mrs Rutter presented the Charter on behalf of the British Federation.

Onto Perth, and Florence was finding her groove within 12 days of arriving she had sent off the petition with 25 names attached. Charter date was set for 28th of July, but the State of Emergency which hampered her efforts in Adelaide was still in place, and then off course the surface mail issue arose again delaying the Charter document, so the Charter date was also delayed until the 3rd of August , Florence wrote, “I am putting all my energy, my time and my money into spreading Soroptimist Clubs in Australia and God is blessing my work”. It needs to be noted that the Federation of Britain, was to pay Florence 5 pounds for every club she Chartered, a pittance for the amount of money this exercise in Sorotpimist expansion would cost her.
Ever onward to Hobart, such expansive travel as Australia is a very large country, noting the time of surface mail, the petition was cabled 3 weeks prior to the holding of the Charter on the 6th of September. On the 6th of September the Charter document had still not arrived, printers were on hold incase the agenda had to be renamed “Inaugural Dinner”, instead of “Presentation of Charter”, an urgent call was sent to SI Melbourne, for Mrs Chandler to send the Melbourne Charter, Mrs Chandler was not able to comply, and then at 3pm, with much joy and relief, the Charter document arrived. Then followed the Charter of the Launceston club on the 4th of October with 42 members.

Now to cross the Tasman and head to New Zealand, Florence was able to Charter SI Christchurch on the 28th of November and SI Auckland on the 21st of December. The history books also note the charter of SI Manly on the 29th of November.
Mrs Florence Rutter was truly a formidable and remarkable woman to undertake such travel across the breath of Australia and over the Tasman to New Zealand to establish 7 clubs in 10 months.


At the 1948 International Convention Soroptimists saw flags from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark,France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, USA and Great Britain. At this conference representatives were nominated for the UN and UNESCO on a consultative basis, Tina Wind from the Netherlands became the first Soroptimist observer to UNECO. Soroptimists were now contributing to world issues, in 1950 Soroptimist International Association was listed on the Roster with ECOSOC, we could join other non governmental organisation at public ECOSOC meetings

SISEAP Membership

Soroptimist International is a global movement of women, with members belonging to more than 3,000 clubs in 126 countries/territories, spread over 5 Federations