Monday, March 23, 2015


Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME' by Gertrude Ruston.  (pp 132-136)                  


In the early part of 1949, whilst Mrs Rischbieth and I were busy in the Women's Service Guilds office, an avalanche descended upon us in the person of Mrs Florence Rutter, a Past President of the Greater London Club of Soroptimist International, Federation of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who had come from England at her own expense with the intention of starting Soroptimist Clubs in Australia and New Zealand.
 She explained that Soroptimism is the female counterpart of Rotary, with the same restrictions as to membership, aims and objects.  In 1921, in America, a Rotarian invited  the head of a firm to become a member of the local Rotary Club and discovered later that the firm was run by a woman, Adelaide E. Goddard.  He had to explain that she could not be a member of his club as only males were eligible to be Rotarians and she was very disappointed.
"He then suggested that she start a club for women executives on the same lines as Rotary and promised her some assistance.  The suggestion appealed to her, she had the necessary ability, and the club was formed.  It linked with a similar movement in England and the name "Soroptimist" was adopted.  Mrs Rutter explained the name as meaning, literally, "Sisters at the Top" or "Leading Women".

Mrs Rutter had gathered together a nucleus of business and professional women with the necessary qualifications in the City of Perth and, as she was advised that the Women's Service Guilds was the leading women's organisation fighting for equality at the time, and that was a platform for Soroptimism, she invited Mrs Rischbieth as State President, and myself as State Secretary, to become Founder Members of the Soroptimist Club of Perth which she was forming.

We both felt we were too fully committed to take on anything further, thanked her for the honour but declined to participate.  However, we reckoned without the persistence of our visitor, who absolutely refused to take 'no' for an answer, and we were bulldozed into becoming prospective members of this new club and, in due course, attending the Charter Dinner as two of its forty seven foundation members.

Miss Margaret Battye, B.A., LL.B., (1909-1949) was the first President.  Looking around for an Honorary Secretary, Mrs Rutter appointed Edna Spark, who ran a typewriting office on St George's Terrace.  Edna helped with a quantity of voluntary typing in the beginning, but was unable to attend meetings, so was therefore ineligible to be appointed Hon. Secretary.  Miss Battye then appealed to me to take the position as I was the only trained secretary in the club and as Margaret was not at all well, I felt obliged to assist her.  However, as *I was fully committed at home and with the Guild's work, I stipulated that I would accept it for a limited period only.  In the end I carried it during its most difficult period until the election in 1951.

The Charter Dinner was held at Tintern Lodge, West Perth, on 3rd August, 1949, and Mrs Rutter and Margaret Battye greeted the guests, amongst whom were eminent men and women of the City of Perth and the 47 prospective Soroptimists,

Mrs Rutter looked most dignified in a beautiful lace coatee over a silk skirt, while Margaret Battye was similarly impressive with her legal air and monocle."  (This is a young Margaret Battye minus the monocle):

"It was a very splendid occasion and, while the 47 prospective members stood, Mrs Rutter presented to the incoming President the roll of parchment, tied with appropriate blue and gold ribbon (the Soroptimist colours), the Charter of the Soroptomist Club of Perth, the first club in Western Australia.

A male pianist had been engaged to play appropriate music during the evening and was obviously accustomed to smoking concerts rather than formal occasions.  To our horror, after Mrs Rutter had presented the Charter and we were all trying to look very important, the pianist played "The Old Grey Mare, She Ain't What She Used To Be", followed by "Why Was She Born So Beautiful".  The expression on our Founder's face defies description.  We had all been trying to live up to her demands that Soroptimists must be dignified at all times, but that episode broke the ice and we all became normal human beings and the occasion less formal.

Coming from so many different spheres of activity, few of us had met before.  I remember with pleasure having Eileen and Norma Monger on my right hand, Dolly Dale-Cullen on my left, and Muriel Wieck (1903-1980) opposite, all previously strangers but with whom I spent very many pleasant occasions later at club meetings.

At that time it took a long time for surface mail to get to and from England.  Advice had been received by cable that the Charter had been granted and was being sent on its way by ship.  Unfortunately the ship was delayed and did not arrive until after the Charter Dinner so, not to be outdone, Mrs Rutter presented Margaret with a beautiful roll of blank parchment.  Few people were aware of the difficulty and the secret was very well kept.

Having given us precise instructions as to procedure etc., Mrs Rutter continued on her way around Australia and New Zealand, and succeeded in starting seven new clubs in all.  She was a wonderful woman, a corsettiere saleswoman by profession, and how she sold Soroptimism!  She gave herself entirely to the project without cost to the British Federation, of which she was a member, and of which we became a part."

I know that in that wonderful place called 'somewhere' I have some photos that I would have love to have shown in this series but, search as I may, they remain undiscovered. 

* Once again the sequence of events doesn't run true.  Here mum says she is still fully committed at home.  I did not leave home until my marriage in July, 1953 and although for some reason I don't recall exactly when dad and mum separated I think it would have been in early 1954.  Therefore in 1951 we were all three still living together in North Perth.


  1. Well now I know what a Soroptomist is...and those wigs are some ugly are they not?

    1. Yes, Delores, that is what Soroptimism is and I am sure there are lots of Rotarians and Soroptimists in Canada doing a lot of good work.
      I agree with you about those wigs. I think it's high time they got modern and forget them along with some of the complicated gowns they wear.

  2. Hari OM
    Miss Rutter sounds like a whirlwind character! I have met a few such; and was nearly recruited into the Hornsby branch of the SI... I say nearly, because the offer came at a time when I was making some major changes in life and it was going to be one straw too many.... I have nothing of your mother's stamina!!! Some amazingly good work is done but such organisations.... Miss Battye did not hold the position long it appears, based on the dates given here. That is a shame. Great reading again Mimisie! YAM xx

    1. I do remember Mrs Rutter and she was a real tornado and definitely didn't take no for an answer.
      It's a pity you weren't able to join SI yourself but, as you say, it came at the wrong time in your life.
      It was a shame that Margaret Battye died so young as she was a wonderful woman.
      Thanks for your comments. xx

  3. I wonder how we described those people before steam rollers and bulldozers were invented. A force of nature?
    I suspect she was exhausting to be around, but it is/was a wonderful idea.
    Thank you Mimsie.

    1. I suggest whirlwind would be a good adjective for someone like Mrs Rutter. She certainly never stopped wherever she was or whatever she was doing.
      You are welcome and hope the story is not becoming a bore as it is now, of course, nearly all about mum and her exploits.

  4. So that's what Soroptimism is.
    I hope no one is offended by me, but it does seem to me to be quite a snobbish and elitist club.
    Perhaps I'm reading it wrong, or my lack of culture is the problem here.
    Your mum certainly did seem to have an inexhaustible supply of energy.

    1. No offence taken re your comment re Soroptimism. Both Rotary clubs and Soroptimist clubs are made up of the leading people in different roles and when you consider a dressmaker or hairdresser (the leaders in their field) are included many of them are not all that wealthy but people that have risen to the top of their professions/trades.
      I think the thing to remember about both groups is the good they do for others.
      When you consider mum had a diptheric heart from the age of 15 it never fails to amaze me how she carried on with so much in her life.

  5. I did appreciate the good things they did for others, on the whole clubs like this are often the only way to get such things done when the government isn't interested in helping or doing.
    Diptheric heart? I'd forgotten your mum had diptheria.

  6. There are so many people doing good that we never hear about or even think about and they can only be praised for their valiant efforts to help others less fortunate than themselves.
    Yes, mum had diptheria when she was 15, back in England.