A Decade of Confusion


This might be called the decade of the terrorist or of the striker, or, more happily, of the liberated woman. The period saw the three day week and the worst unemployment since the 1930s. It also saw the rise of the mini-skirt and the platform sole, the fall of the midi-skirt and ladies went in to long dresses or smart trouser suits to visit friends for dinner.

Troubles in Northern Ireland dominated much of the decade. Violence erupted in the province in summer 1969 and internment was introduced in August 197 1. Direct rule from Westminster was instituted in March 1972 following Bloody Sunday in January 1972, and in 1974 IRA bombs exploded in Birmingham and Guildford.

In February 1972, an all-out miners' strike put Britain in the dark because miners picketed electrical power stations. In December 1973 a three day week was instituted. Families were urged to heat one room only and Christmas shoppers could find they were shopping by candlelight. Families would go on holiday for a mid-term weekend to find candies and cold food as an unexpected power cut hit the hotels. The average weekly take home pay was 30.11. A packet of crisps was 5p, a chocolate biscuit 12p, and a black and white TV 60, a radio 16, and an electric kettle 17. These prices were soon affected by a zippy little tax called VAT. During 1973 petrol was in short supply and it paid to have an account with a garage where there were mile long queues. There were acute shortages of toilet paper, sugar, electricity and coal among much else. People watched in dismay as TV blacked out at 10.30 pm by order of the government. This was the "winter of discontent".

In March 1974, Harold Wilson replaced Edward Heath (under whose Premiership decimal coinage had been introduced (1971) and Britain had agreed to join the EEC in 1972), as Prime Minister and promised to "put Britain back to work". But he resigned unexpectedly in 1976 and was succeeded by James Callaghan.

Women's rights made advances in the 1970s. The Matrimonial Property Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act all helped to reduce the differentials between men and women. Germaine Greer had challenged the masculine world with her book "The Female Eunuch", bras were burned and "womens' lib" began to be a real force. Free family planning became available on the NHS in April 1974 and the world's first "test tube baby", Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

On a lighter note, women rushed to buy the first issue of "Cosmopolitan" in March 1972. It was a monthly magazine which promised articles on life (and men) love and sex (and men) and money (and men). It was a runaway success.

On the entertainment scene, Morecambe and Wise gave a tot of laughs and "Punk" became fashionable. The former appealed to mature citizens and the latter to rebellious teenagers who adopted Mohican hairstyles and attendant gear.

The Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in June 1977, amid much rejoicing, as yet untainted by any scandal in the Royal Family. Once again the schools were out in force as she passed and went walk about for the first time. To add to the feeling of celebration, Virginia Wade became the first British Wimbledon Champion since 1969.

The most remarkable woman of the decade was Margaret Thatcher who became the first woman to lead a British political party in 1975 and the first woman British Prime Minister in 1979. After she won the general election she prayed "where there is discord may we bring harmony". Events were to prove otherwise.

In Glasgow in November 1970, in the first grip of icy winter, dozens of cars went out of control on the new Kingston Bridge because power to the heating system had not been turned on because of a disagreement between the electricity board and the Corporation! There was little humour about when John Brown's of Clydebank went into liquidation in June 1971, less than four years after the launching of the QE2, which had been one of the proudest days in the history of the Clyde. Disaster seemed imminent, but the strong support for the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in eventually forced the Government to put up 35 million for the formation of an amalgamated Govan Shipbuilders; as a result only a few hundred jobs were lost. January 2 1971 was the date of the Ibrox disaster, when 66 fans died in the closing minute of the traditional New Year match from a crush on a stairway.

Fashion, like industry, seemed to be in a state of flux. When the pop singer Lulu arrived in Glasgow airport in 1971 she sported hot pants and thigh boots. Fashion did not need to be expensive, thanks to synthetic materials; a skirt in Acrilan, blouse in Tricel, PVC boots, polyurethane coat and scarf from knitted Orlon could make a lovely "swinging" effect and it was possible in 1970 to purchase a smart trouser suit outfit with enormous flares for 10. Later in 1975 Armani took this fashion up - at a higher price! Big lapels, long cuffs and pointed collars were the order of the day. The current sounds were made by 'Heavy Metal', the Osmonds, Abba, David Bowie and the Wombles of Wimbledon. John Travolta introduced line dancing and Grease. Flares of a different kind caused two disasters in Glasgow. In 1971, 20 shoppers were killed and more than 100 injured when a faulty gas main ignited at Clarkston Toll, and in 1978 the Grosvenor Hotel was destroyed by fire during a firemen's strike. The hotel was later rebuilt in the original style.




Soroptimism and the Club in the 1970s


Although the Seventies had a less recognisable character than other decades, ii marked the onset of the worst economic recession since the war and the many organisations with which Soroptimists worked were facing great changes. One parent families were considered to be a great problem and the Women's National Commission of the United Kingdom collected views on this subject from all Soroptimist Clubs. As a result, many worthwhile recommendations were put forward about the legal, financial and social needs of families who were deprived of mother or father.

1971 marked the Golden Jubilee of the Soroptimist Movement. At the celebrations in Rome, Pope Paul VI said "To lead women in an ever clearer awareness of the problems of the modern world, to help them share in the responsibilities of life in society - what task could be more appropriate and urgent in the world of women today?"

In Glasgow Central the Golden Jubilee of Soroptimism was celebrated under the Presidency of Margaret Cowan. There can be few Soroptimists who have been more dedicated to the cause than Margaret. She has been indefatiguable in her efforts for the Club in more than 30 years. She joined in 1965, was representative DU Scotland South 1972-78, has been social convener from time to time; was secretary of the Club's Golden Jubilee committee in 1977, Diamond Jubilee committee in 1987; secretary from 1983-1989 and was a member of the Federation Conference committee in 1979 and 1988. She also produced all the Soroptimist material for this history. Her cheerful presence has enlivened all the activities in which she has taken part.

In Glasgow, a civic reception was given to all three Glasgow Clubs in the City Chambers. The three Clubs presented a garden seat to the city and it was placed in George Square. All Scottish Clubs joined in to raise 2400, as a DU Jubilee project for the Marie Curie Fund in Scotland.

In 1972 there was a birthday lunch to mark the Club's 45th anniversary. The three Glasgow Clubs embarked on a project to help the Chest and Heart Association, not just to raise funds but to educate the public in preventive measures.

In March 1973, two members of the Antwerp Club were entertained as guests of Glasgow Central for a week. When asked if there were any special subjects on which they would like information they replied "Family planning and the law of divorce as it applies to women in Britain"! Amid slight consternation, information was duly supplied. The guests greatly enjoyed the "Scottish evening in the home of Joan Alexander.

In 1975 a cheque for a final total of 1420 was given to the Chest and Heart Association and in 1976, a "Nearly New" shop raised 755 in six days to help the handicapped.

In 1977 membership stood at 85 (50 active, 35 retired). 1977 was the Queen's Silver Jubilee Year and our Golden Jubilee year. The Club sent a loyal message to Her Majesty and received a reply offering her best wishes to us. The Club's original Charter was lost in the destruction by fire of the Grosvenor Function Rooms where the meetings had been held for a number of years and a copy had to he obtained. This "new" Charter was signed by Una Bissett, President 1977/78, and inscribed on the back by Dr Isobel Case with the names and categories of all Charter members.

A history of the first 50 years of the Club was compiled by Alison Downie, who became a Soroptimist in 1946 (category, Newspaper Reporter) and went on to become a well known Women's Editor of the Glasgow Herald and was Club President in 1972. Her aunt, Dr Mary Stevenson, had joined the Club in 1935, was President 1940-42 and President of the Federation of Great Britain and Ireland from 1946-47. Alison was particularly well qualified to write the Club history which sold at the bargain price of 15p (20p if signed by the author!)

Our Golden Jubilee, celebrated in style with a dinner in the Central Hotel on November, was chaired by Miss Una Bissett, and our Founder President, Miss Helen Catto, came from London for the occasion. The guest speaker was the distinguished author Dorothy Dunnett, famous throughout the world for her historical novels. The birthday cake was cut by our oldest member Dr Alice Marshall (86) who had joined the Club in 1927 and was a most regular attender throughout; she was a well known pathologist (a most unusual category at that time). She was a pioneer in providing a blood transfusion service at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and did a great deal to conserve the wonderful pathological collection. She died in 1988 at the age of 96. The Jubilee dinner cost 9; this seems a modest sum by today's standards, but cost was put in perspective by the Banqueting Manager who had consulted the hotel's records for details of the 12th Annual Dinner of the Club held on 13th February 1939. The tables then were decorated with daffodils and irises, cigars (!) and State Express cigarettes were provided and there was an item called "cash cocktails": the cost for the dinner was 7/6d! The Club also held a Jubilee lunch to entertain honorary members, past presidents and presidents of our daughterclubs(Falkirk, Paisley, Motherwell and Wishaw, Glasgow South and GlasgowWest).

At Christmas time a card was received with greetings and congratulations in our Jubilee year from Oakland Club, California, bearing the signature of Violet Richardson Ward, founder President of the first ever Soroptimist Club. Christmas music was performed in Cranstonhill Nursery School. Agnes Duncan and Joan Alexander presented a programme of Christmas music, initially at a lunch meeting near to Christmas, when Agnes brought along some of her choir. Agnes Duncan and Joan Alexander are two ladies who deserve a very special mention. Agnes Duncan MBE came into prominence as a soloist in the world famous Glasgow Orpheus Choir, founded by Sir Hugh Roberton, whose musical standards were most exacting. She was leading contralto in Glasgow Cathedral Choir. Later, she founded the Scottish Junior Singers and brought knowledge and love of music to many young people. Some of these girls went on to form the Duncan singers who entertained us at the Christmas concerts. She was much loved by her 'girls'. Agnes sadly died just before this history was completed. At 97 years of age she was the longest living member.

Dr Joan Alexander's outstanding musical talents were recognised by the University of Glasgow in the award of an Honorary Degree. A wonderful solo singer (a critic who heard her thought her the equal of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf), she has devoted much of her time to teaching singing, which she is still doing in her 80s. Her talented pupils have entertained us in the Christmas concerts. The concert is accompanied by a Christmas buffet provided by the executive. Everyone brings a small gift to put in a lucky dip together with some edible items which are given to a deserving charity. Other events of the year included a Burns Supper, a coffee morning at Renfield Church Centre in aid of the Glasgow Music Festival and another fund raising event at the Couper Institute intriguingly entitled "Chapeaux - Gateaux - Hirondelle". The chapeaux were sold and the gateaux were consumed, washed down by the Hirondelle, a fashionable wine in the '70s. Finally, a service of thanksgiving to mark our Jubilee was held in Glasgow Cathedral in April 1978 at the invitation of the minister, Dr Morris.

1978 saw the 21st birthday of Soroptimist House, the home we established in 1957 for "gentlewomen in necessitous circumstances". Margaret White laid on a buffet meal in her home for this occasion. The main fundraising event was a Fashion Show at Glasgow City Chambers, organised by Fay Dickson of Fay Dickson Fashions, Lanark, and opened by Catharine Salt, later International President 1981-1983, in the presence of the Lady Provost and the Matron of Erskine Hospital. All proceeds went to Erskine. Christmas music that year was performed at the Royal Scottish Automobile Club, Blythswood Square.

1979 was the "International Year of the Child" to which fundraising efforts were directed. A meeting on this theme was addressed by the Countess of Mar and Kellie. There was a dinner in the Trades House (the one surviving Glasgow building designed by Robert Adam) and the guest speaker was Professor Jan McDonald of the Chair of Drama at Glasgow University. The University interest in the performing arts has been greatly stimulated by her and she is now professor of "Theatre, Film and Television Studies" following the conversion of the former Gilmorehill Church into a centre for these studies. Professor McDonald further supported the Club with an address on "The use of drama" in May 1982. There was also a cheese and wine evening in the Transport Museum where the members were able to enjoy the fascinating collection of objects, especially the tramcars.