Soroptimist International of the Americas

Soroptimist's first president, Violet Richardson Ward


Soroptimist got its start in Oakland, California, when the first club, Alameda County, charted in 1921. The members coined a name for their organization by combining two Latin words:  Soror (women) and Optima (the best), which they interpreted as “the best for women.”

Other clubs quickly chartered on both the west and east coasts of the U.S. and in Canada, followed quickly by clubs in Great Britain and Europe. In 1928 the federations of the Americas and Europe were formed, as was the international umbrella organization, now known as Soroptimist International. The federation of Great Britain and Ireland spun off of the European federation in 1934 and a portion of the British federation formed the Southwest Pacific federation in 1978. The first clubs in the America’s federation chartered outside of North America was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1948, followed by other clubs in Central and South America. The first federation club chartered in Asia was Kyoto, Japan in 1960, followed by more clubs in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.

From the beginning, clubs in the Americas federation committed a great deal of their service work to assisting women in their communities. Early projects included grants to women trying to find new employment opportunities and providing housing for women with children. In 1972, the federation began its signature project, now called the Women’s Opportunity Awards, which provide cash grants for head-of-household women seeking to improve their lives with the help of additional education and training.






Copyright © 2007 National Women's History Museum.