Soroptimist Club

The fabric of Camden's social life in the days before television was woven in great part by the many social, service, and fraternal groups that were active in the city. Most of these are long gone, some are extinct and some are on the verge of disappearing. One group that was active in Camden from its founding in 1930 but gone from the city today was the Soroptimist Club, later known as the Soroptimist Club of Camden County. 

This group was the first Soroptimist club in N.J. and was organized in 1930 through the sponsorship of the club in Philadelphia. Its listed boundaries in 1949 were the city of Camden and surrounding area of 22 miles in the state of N.J. The boundaries were changed in 1951 to match those of Camden County. The club drew its membership (by invitation) from women professionals and women engaged in the management of a business or a governmental agency. The local Soroptimists supported a variety of community projects and organizations (including several relating to health care), participated in home front activities during World War II and in the years before government money became available sponsored scholarship loans for young women seeking to study to become teachers or nurses. The local club was active as late as January 1964. One prominent member was Hazel Beaty Hackett, the owner of Arlington Cemetery in Pennsauken. She served as president of the local club from 1934 to1936. She later served as director of the North Atlantic Region, 1936-1938, and as president, 1946-1948, of the American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs.

Soroptimist was formed because in 1921 women who were interested in volunteer service were not permitted to join male service organizations. Since that time, the organization has worked to help women improve their standing in the world. Despite tremendous strides, women still do not enjoy equal economic or social status with their male counterparts. As an organization of and for women, Soroptimist feels uniquely qualified to tackle the challenges facing today's women and girls.

  The first Soroptimist club was formed in Oakland, California, by a group of women who were interested in volunteer service but who were prohibited from joining all-male service organizations. The Founder President was Violet Richardson-Ward. The name Soroptimist was coined from the Latin soror meaning sister, and optima meaning best, and so the name Soroptimist, term interpreted as “best for women,” was chosen for the new club. Other clubs quickly formed in North America, and in 1923 the first club in Europe was established. The first clubs provided women business owners, managers and professionals in different occupational areas the opportunity to meet, and to work together in their communities. In 1928, the individual Soroptimist clubs in North America banded together to create a federation of Soroptimist clubs, now called Soroptimist International of the Americas.

As Soroptimist clubs spread throughout North America in the years before World War II, they attracted outstanding women in the community, such as Bertha Knight Landes, the first woman elected as the mayor of a major American city (Seattle in 1925), and Mercy Ellen Crehan of Vancouver, British Columbia, the first woman certified accountant in Canada. Soroptimist projects and programs often focused on providing assistance to other women in the community, especially in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The war years provided additional opportunities for Soroptimists to assist women. For instance, one project focused on providing assistance to the Lanchow Nursing School in China, while others assisted women in gaining employment.

In the aftermath of World War II, Soroptimist began extending membership into communities in Central and South America. The first club outside of North America was formed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At this time, members also began contributing one penny for each year of Soroptimist’s existence to the Founders Week fund (now the Program Service Fund), which provided fellowships to women working in rare, distinctive and pioneering fields. Soroptimist also sponsored the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania during the 1950s with a $25,000 fund, and later sponsored research at the University of Toronto on the plight of the white-collar woman worker.

Following the expansion of membership to women in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines in the 1960s, Soroptimist began to develop additional programs to assist women. In 1972, the Women’s Opportunity Awards were established to provide cash grants to increase the job skills for women who are the sole source of financial support for their families. The celebration of International Women’s Year in 1975 and the U.N. Decade for Women 1975-1985 sparked the formation of what is now called the Making a Difference for Women Award program, which recognizes women who work to improve women’s economic, legal, and societal standing.

At this time, the organization undertook a formal assessment of its operations. Following almost a decade of study and planning, the organization’s governance structure was changed in 1991, providing for increased representation of members outside of the United States on the board of directors, and increased support by professional staff, to release volunteer leaders from administrative work so they could focus on program and project delivery.

During the 1990s, and into the 21st century, Soroptimist consolidated its programming to focus solely on improving the lives of women and girls. The Women’s Opportunity Awards continued to be the organization’s major service project. The Violet Richardson Award—named for the first president of the first Soroptimist club—was established to recognize outstanding volunteer efforts of young women ages 14-17.

The elimination of domestic violence against women was a major focus, and included compiling a legislative guide on domestic violence laws in all of the countries with members in Soroptimist International of the Americas. Domestic violence programs in Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Philippines received funds to help improve access to services for women in those countries, and programs in lower Manhattan received significant funding following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. In addition, clubs participated in the Soroptimist Workplace Campaign to End Domestic Violence, an annual event targeting domestic violence as a workplace concern.

The Soroptimist organization also provided grants to clubs for innovative community programs that improve conditions for women and girls.

After more than 80 years providing projects and programming that benefit women in communities all over the world, Soroptimist continues to prove itself as the “best for women.”

The organizations headquarters' are at Soroptimist International of the Americas, 1709 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA  19103-6103..

Camden Courier-Post - June 10, 1932

Hotel Walt Whitman - Mrs. Ethel Butler - Miss Rita Fell

Camden Courier-Post - June 18, 1932

Hotel Walt Whitman - Mrs. Ethel Butler
Miss Viola Shuler - Mrs. Olive Adams

Soroptimist to Attend Garden Dinner Tonight

Fourteen members of the Camden Soroptimist Club will attend the supper to be given in the rose garden of the Casper W. Haines' home, "Wyck," Germantown, tonight by Ella Wister Haines, president of the Philadelphia Soroptimist Club.

Attending the affair from the Camden Club will be Mrs. Mary T. Koch, the president; Mrs. Ethel B. Butler, Mrs. Hazel Hackett, Miss Anna Lavin, Miss Mary E. Grisel, Miss Mildred Buzby, Mrs. Ruth Morrison, Mrs. Clara Anthony, Mrs. Sarah Dollar, Mrs. Lillian Ellis, Mrs. Edna Egger, Miss Hazel B. Greene, Miss Olga Borsch and Mrs. Eleanor Gregg.


June 6, 1933

Soroptimists to Meet For Luncheon Monday

Camden Soroptimists will hold their June business meeting following luncheon in the Hotel Walt Whitman on Monday.

Mrs. Mary A. Koch, president, will preside, at the meeting when projects for next year will be presented. 

Plans for entertaining Mercy Ellen Crehan of Vancouver the American Federation president, have been abandoned as her stay in the West, where she is visiting Soroptimist clubs, has been prolonged indefinitely.

The June social meeting is scheduled for the fourth Monday and will close the season's activities.


June 10, 1933

Camden Courier-Post - June 29, 1933

Soroptimists to Hold Informal Weekly Luncheons

Although the Camden Soroptimist Club will hold no regular meeting until September, members will gather each Monday for luncheon in the club rooms of the Hotel Walt Whitman.

These informal get-togethers were begun last Summer and proved such a success that they are being repeated this season.

Mrs. Mary A. Koch is the president, of the club composed of business and professional women of Camden and vicinity.

A picnic supper in the basement of Centenary-Tabernacle M. E. Church, this week, for the Girl Scouts of Camden Troop No. 28, was the final social event on the calendar.

Mrs. Clara Anthony, a member of the club; who is captain of the troop, arranged the affair.

At this time, the annual awards were made to the scouts. Miss Betty Starliper and Miss Isabel McMorrow were presented with gold stars for perfect attendance and Miss Joyce Smith and Miss Sarah Molotsky, silver stars for 90 percent attendance. A medal for good behavior was won by Miss Betty Jones and for neatness, by Miss Marguerite Heritage. Honorable mention for neatness was given Miss Virginia Hahn and Miss Ruth Elaine Sharp.

Camden Courier-Post - February 16, 1936

Albert M. Bean Makes Plea for Child Welfare

Albert M. Bean appeared before members of the Soroptimist Club of Camden on Monday night and appealed to the members to act with other service groups in the county in organizing a coordinating council to combat juvenile delinquency.

Mr. Bean, superintendent of the Camden County Schools, is cooperating with the New Jersey State Police in an endeavor to create the council. Going back 20 years, the speaker named various activities along such lines which have been supported by local men's groups. There is too little support given 
activities which are thoroughly in the interest of child welfare," Mr. Bean 
said. He invited the soroptimists to meet with other service groups on April 
24, when the council will be formed.. 

Camden Courier-Post - February 26, 1936

Soroptimists Plan 'Dress Parade' as Benefit Feature

A "dress parade" at two o'clock will precede the Camden Soroptimist card party this Saturday at the Hotel Walt Whitman, here.

The affair, planned under the direction of Mrs. Hazel B. Hackett. past president, and Miss Marguerite C. Rudder, who now holds that office, is one of the most elaborate benefit ventures of the club this year and proceeds will be added to the convention fund.

Miss Jane Anderson, of this city, and Miss Helen Newkirk, of Collingswood, are co-chairmen of the fashion show, which will include a number of the latest knitted suits and coats.

Models will be Mrs. M. Himmelein, Mrs. Harry Cramer, Miss Adelaide McGuire, Miss Charlotte Gravatt, Miss Mildred L. Buzby, Mrs. Joseph Bantivoglio and Mrs. Mary Koch, who will display cloth suits, coats, day and evening frocks, and Miss Jean Lamb, Miss Doris Rodan, Miss Olga Borch and Mrs. Harold K. Eynon, who will wear knitted attire.

Cards will follow the display. 

Camden Courier-Post - February 21, 1938

Soroptomist Club - Hotel Walt Whitman - Mrs. Kirk Barb - Miss Mary Barb
Mrs. Joseph Horneff -
Miss Betty Hanna - Miss Naomi Hofflinger

Camden Courier-Post * February 26, 1938

Soroptomist Club - Hotel Walt Whitman - Hilda Sampson - Elizabeth Hoell - Linden Street