|Looking back over three score years and ten, one can realise that the situation of
women has changed greatly. In 1927 a woman's place was definitely in the home. There were
some stalwart women who did voluntary work and gave great service to the community. But
there were few women in the professions or at the top of the tree. The givings in the
early years after the First World War and during the Depression were extraordinarily high
for the salaries or wages of the time and it is quite possible that some of the early
Soroptimists were women of independent means who shared their funds with others who were
less well off. Moreover, there was an ethos of giving at that time as the hospitals were
funded by charities before the introduction of the Welfare State and people expected to
lay aside money for themselves and money to help others. Dare it be suggested that we
might soon require to return to this situation?
Our categories have changed greatly over the years - see appendix. The Club had a woman
farmer when the fields would not be too far away from the centre - perhaps Auldhouse or
Burnside, who knows, and a quick ride in by local train (or by pony and trap?). In the
fifties there were still a big number of private businesses in the city centre: the
department stores like Copland and Lye, Pettigrew and Stephens, Wylie and Lochhead,
Paisley's, Forsyth's, many more and even Fraser's were run by families or partnerships of
Glasgow people whom we knew about. There were grocers like Ferguson's, Massey's and
others, greengrocers like Malcolm Campbell, florists like Toni Gilmour, butchers like
Sloan and fishmongers like S.L. Neill. There were shoe shops like James Allan's and one
could go on forever. Glasgow was a shopping centre - no, not a mall or a precinct - just a
town with old-fashioned shops where goods were purchased. Would they now be called
boutiques? I think not. The Club would almost certainly have representatives of the
various trades and professions, a true cross section. We still have a manufacturing
furrier, now retired, on our membership lists but that trade is for the moment dead.
Seventy years ago those women who qualified for our categories in Glasgow must have been
fairly isolated at the top of their professions. Achieving one of our aims women of
position are much less isolated and of course less likely to require the company of
like-minded women in the Soroptimist Club. This is fortunate for women, but less fortunate
for membership numbers and fundraising.
There has been another change. In the early days meetings were held over lunch - a
leisurely lunch too - when women in position had more control of their time. The increased
speed of life, the volume of traffic and general economy have made it impossible to have a
two hour lunchbreak in the centre of town and meetings were gradually changed to the
evening over a cup of coffee rather than a meal.
Until the seventies, members were addressed by their appropriate title (ie, Miss, Mrs,
Doctor, etc) unless a close friend. It would have been unheard of in the early years to
address a fellow Soroptimist or one's mother-in-law (heaven forbid!) by her Christian
name. We were late in changing but now even the President is known by her first name and
one rarely bears the title.
During the seventies when the last chronicle came out it was de rigeur to wear a hat and
gloves to lunch, as well as a badge of course. A plethora of splendid hats was to be seen.
One member in particular would be dressed all to match - hat, skirts, shoes all in emerald
green with a trimming of royal blue on the hat. Even the spectacle frames were green and
(of course!) they hung from a gold chain. The colours would vary but would always match.
That was not quite the norm. Now most members have had a busy day or are retired and such
luxuries are over both from the fashion point of view and because of the cost.
Glasgow has changed vastly. The tea room days of Miss Cranston and Craig's when ladies had
time to take tea are long over. The days of gracious living are largely over and Glasgow
is now owned by multinational companies and our categories have perforce changed to suit.
Most women now work to earn money as well as to satisfy an ambition or give service.
Over the years our meeting venues have changed too. In the fifties it was the Grosvenor in
Gordon Street, a splendid Victorian building which burned down, and we have inched from
the business centre to the West for our meetings, to the academic quarter which is glad to
have us and which we feel we can afford. Whether the trend is up-market or down~market -
reader decide for yourself. Seventy years on we meet in a building of character and
The Club has consistently worked to advance the rights of women, to give of its time and
money to help the plight of other women at home and abroad. Here the battle for women's
rights in the workplace is largely won. But there are other rights to be dealt with, and
there is much still to be done internationally. Perhaps we might extend our considerable
influence to global concerns affecting the environment in an attempt to beqeath to our
children and our children's children a better world in which to live. There will always be
something to be done. The spirit of Soroptimism is alive and well.
As we come to our 70th anniversary Vera Lynn has her 80th birthday. 'We'll meet again'.