A Period of Recovery


Even in the Nineteen Fifties some war time restrictions persisted. Clothes were still on coupons and the 1950s bride had to choose her trousseau within the limits of the coupons. Newly weds had to present their ration books to the hotel or boarding house where they spent their honeymoon. The bride's ration book was in her maiden name to her considerable embarrassment in those days.

Despite all this the 50s were one of the most exhilarating decades of the century. Life became exciting again. The Festival of Britain on the South Bank of the Thames in London (1951) seemed to herald a brilliant future. Early in 1952 there was sadness at the death of the beloved King George VI but the accession of the young Queen Elizabeth, her coronation (1953) and the conquest of Everest on the same day marked the hopeful beginning of a new " Elizabethan Age". Once again the nation went into party mood. This time some families owned a black and white television and extended families and sometimes streets squeezed themselves into the living room and shared a party, glued to the set. This was the first time such a spectacle had ever been seen. Many of the men however were still on national service.

A notable scientific achievement in Coronation Year was the deduction of the full structure of DNA (the very stuff of life) by X-ray crystallographic methods,published in 'Nature' by Watson and Crick. Much of the work was in fact done by a woman, Rosalind Franklin. Without her contribution Watson and Crick could never have published. They got the Nobel prize; she was forgotten - 'the dark lady of DNA'. Poor Rosalind Franklin struggled on with her work despite breast cancer and died a few years after publication. What a shame!

Scientific recognition was still difficult for women to achieve and equal status with men was impossible. But financial conditions for professional women were gradually improving. In 1954, according to official figures, a senior teacher earned 800 a year, a nurse about 400 and a solicitor about 2000. In 1958 women teachers and civil servants at last won equal pay with men.

Although the Suez affair in 1956 demonstrated that Britain was no longer a great imperial power, and Britain was excluded from the Common Market by de Gaulle, a blossoming new consumer culture hit Europe. The "affluent society" arrived and by the end of the decade the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was saying that we "never had it so good".

In the 1950s Sainsbury's expanded greatly in England and, in 1959, Fraser bought Harrods. Premium bonds were introduced in 1956. Pocket transistor radios became fashionable (a mixed blessing!) and in 1956 the first commercially available electric computer appeared.

There were new fashions and new movements with new labels e.g. "CND" and "Anti- Establishment". Jazz discovered "cool", the teenager was invented and, with Bill Haley and Elvis Presley in the charts, the world was rock'n rolling round the clock. Sex symbols Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot and antiheroes Marlon Brando and James Dean moulded a new image on the screen and John Osborne gave the rebel a name and a cause.

In the Fifties women were enjoying their femininity again; more make-up was available, with big names like Elizabeth Arden, Cyclax, Dorothy Gray and Helena Rubenstein appearing to replace the ubiquitous "Miner's" or perhaps "Max Factor". Perfumes like Chanel and Worth began to come across from France and were most acceptable gifts from male admirers. Cigarette holders reappeared as fashion items along with the more exotic cigarettes such as "Balkan Sobranie" in black or pink - although if you were broke it was still "Woodbine". Women were certainly smoking much more, which sadly has had long term effects on their health.

The war-time ethos of "make do and mend" rapidly gave way to lavish advertisements aimed at women who were now part of the work force and had their own pay packets. Foreign travel, which had become possible immediately after the war, albeit with a 25 maximum travel allowance to spend, became much easier in the Fifties and became increasingly likely for a honeymoon.

In Glasgow, 1951 started with a great festival, the Fifth Centenary of the University. There were illuminations, torchlight processions and all kind of junketings. But Royal approval of the celebrations was withdrawn owing to the theft of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey the year before.

Despite a persistent problem of unemployment, most people in Glasgow earned good wages and there was a moderate air of prosperity about. Local business was still expanding and Glasgow still claimed to be one of the world's great engineering centres. This was reflected in the Scottish Industries Exhibition held in the Kelvin Hall in 1954, with local displays supplemented by colourful novelties introduced by American firms which had recently set up branch factories in Scotland.

Public health improved and the greatest achievement was the X-ray campaign against TB in 1957. Thirty seven mobile radiography units were used in an intensive five week campaign to identify TB carriers in the city. The X-ray stations, some in vans, visited housing schemes, offices and factories, and were manned by volunteers. Glasgow deaths from pulmonary tuberculosis were the highest in Britain (25 per 1000 of population) but the 1957 campaign resulted in 715,000 people being screened. Media coverage and a weekly prize draw of X-ray cards ensured a good response and the exercise was repeated in most other large cities, using the Glasgow campaign as a model.The eventual result of the campaign was a great reduction in the cases of TB in the city.

Perhaps the most significant revolution in social habits for many years began in 1953 at the time of the Queen's coronation when TV brought the world into the homes of Glasgow people. There were some negative consequences; fewer bought newspapers. Both the "Evening News" (1957) and the "Bulletin" stopped publication. Dancing continued to be popular, perhaps because people under 25 were unwilling to stay at home in the evenings. Bingo halls were a strange phenomenon of the late 1950s and drew out a lot of women. New restaurants opened as there was more money to spend but some longestablished tea-rooms and smoke-rooms closed, particularly the James Craig establishments - the Gordon Street and Union Street buildings were converted to shops and offices in 1955 and the Rhul in Sauchiehall St, where the Glasgow Soroptimist Club started, closed in 1958.




The Club in the 1950s


By 1950, the desirability of forming a second Club in Glasgow was first discussed, the membership of the existing club having grown to 126. The task of investigating this idea was handed over to the Membership and Classification Committee, and two years later, in February 1952, the first meeting of the Soroptimist Club of Glasgow South was held, followed by a Charter Dinner in June, at which many members of the "Mother Club" were happy to be present.

Though the annual dinner had been established from the Club's first year, it was not until 1951 that a more informal type of party was held. This was a great success, and was repeated in 1952. On both occasions, cake and other good things from the Sister Club of Los Angeles appeared on the supper tables.

In 1951, a large party from Glasgow attended the Scottish Conference in Ayr : informal lunches were continued during the summer months, and proved to be very popular : and the Soroptimist Country Dancing Class was started, with equal success!

In the same year, there were important overseas contacts. Twelve European Soroptimists visited Glasgow during a special study course in Child Welfare in Britain arranged by the British Council and the British Federation of Soroptimist Clubs, and financed by the Soroptimist Post-War Relief Fund. The twelve visitors had a strenuous programme of visits to various child welfare centres in Glasgow; but a very happy dinner was arranged by the Glasgow Club for the overseas visitors. Toward the end of the year, Glasgow Club learned that they had been given a European Sister Club - Antwerp, Belgium - in addition to Los Angeles.

In the early summer of 1952, five German women spent a fortnight in Glasgow. They had been invited to come by the Standing Conference of Women's Organisations, and the various organisations, the Soroptimist Club among them, were entirely responsible for the two weeks' programme; the object being to give as full a picture as possible of the life, interests, and activities of British women. This was an important gesture of international co-operation so soon after the end of the war.

And so to August 1952 when 14 members of the Glasgow Club attended the International Conference of Soroptimists in Copenhagen, Denmark, at which the theme was "Moulding the Future". When 1200 members attended the opening ceremony of the Copenhagen conference, the Soroptimist Association had 25,444 members in 22 countries, with a total of 841 clubs. Clara Hammerick, President of the European Federation welcomed the delegates and soon made her mark as a hostess by the warmth of her personality and her often heard joyous singing voice. At the conference, the Federation of Great Britain and Ireland presented a collective report of work from the previous conference "Working for the World We Want"; the report stressed a renewed sense of spiritual values in worship, and the development of work for old people, children and the handicapped.

The success of the theme "Working for the World We Want" was continued with the adoption of "Moulding the Future" as the theme for the next four years. By 1952, the pioneers of Soroptimism were taking their place in the "Hall of Fame" and handing over to their successors.

Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland brought pressure to bear on their governments to increase their contributions to UNICEF and UNESCO and a number of clubs had already established housing facilities for the elderly. Glasgow followed this trend with the opening of Soroptimist House in 1957.

In 1952 membership was 109 with one associate member. Four of the original Founder Members remained; Miss Allan, Miss Horn, Miss Pugh and Miss Murdoch. The Club celebrated its 25th anniversary with a dinner in the Central Hotel. Three hundred guests attended, amongst them a representative of the Antwerp Club, Petronella van Leckwyeck. Birthday candles were lit by Miss de Courcy L Dewar (President 1932) and Miss IH Baird (President 1951).

During 20 years 1932-52 the Club had donated more than 1500 to various charities - this sum representing only what was voted by members at each year's AGM. It does not take into account such special sums as the 1800 raised at the "Muckle Mercat". Nor does it include a sum of 1000 which the Club disbursed to ex-servicemen; this was an anonymous donation from a member. Altogether these donations represented sacrificial giving by many members. Remember the low salaries for women that have already been quoted.

The Queen's coronation took place in June 1953 and the Federation President, Dorothy Griffiths, had the honour of being present in Westminster Abbey for the ceremony. Glasgow joined with all the other Scottish Clubs in the Coronation Year Project, to raise money for guide dogs for the blind.

In 1953 and 1954 the Glasgow Club urged Standing Conference to take positive steps in support of the Equal Pay campaign and also pointed out the dangers to young people of "horror comics", with their incitement to violence. These initiatives were interesting examples of forward thinking by the Club. In 1954 another "daughter Club", Glasgow West was formed and the Mother Club's name was changed to "Glasgow Central Club" to distinguish it from the two daughter clubs.

At the annual general meeting in 1955, Miss Grace Williamson suggested that the Club should raise money to provide suitable accommodation for retired professional and business women with limited incomes. The Soroptimist House Fund was set up with a committee formed from the three Glasgow Clubs under her chairmanship. By 1956, 800 had been collected and, in 1957, an "Easter Fair" in the McLellan Galleries raised 1800. A house at 7 Loudon Terrace was purchased for 1450 and suitably equipped. (If you consider the price that a house of this kind would fetch in the West End of Glasgow today, it gives you an idea of the generosity of members and friends in the 1950s). Soroptimist House was dedicated by the Rev. Vera Kenmure on October 1st 1957 and eight residents moved in two weeks later. (Vera Kenmure was a club member and is remembered as the first woman minister. This was in the Congregational Church; the Church of Scotland followed some years later.)