SISM Founded: October 14, 1925
The Seattle-Metro charter was signed on October 14, 1925, marking the founding of SISM. Among the charter members were Mrs. Bertha K. Landes, the first woman mayor of a large US city; Ella McBride, internationally acclaimed photographer; Margaret Porter, an entrepreneur who started her own food products company; Mary Ann Wells, a dance teacher whose ballet students achieved success worldwide; Dr. Lillian Erwin, who practiced medicine for fifty years; and many members in the Seattle arts community.
The Twenties were a time of growth for Seattle with the Civic Auditorium opening and Charles Lindberg’s visit to Sand Point. Soroptimist played an active role in the cultural life of Seattle. In its first year, Soroptimist Seattle-Metro registered voters, furnished a room for children at Firlands Sanitarium, made Thanksgiving baskets for the needy, taught English as a Second Language at the Seamen’s Club, and sponsored recitals at Cornish College of the Arts.
Growth came to a halt with the stock market crash and the drought in 1929 when 500 banks closed. Unemployment surged to 33%. Though membership dropped, several members helped out to pay dues of members who lost jobs and businesses.
The club focused efforts on the Mother’s Home Foundation which acquired sixteen homes over the program’s nineteen years. The homes were sold to widows with small children, interest free, with payments they could afford.
Through the financially difficult years, the club continued to help the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Civic Opera. Members also contributed to the start of the Women’s Division of the Employment Commission to lower the number of unemployment women.
The club strengthened Soroptimist in the Northwest by chartering nine clubs during the 1940’s. SISM mobilized during World War II, supplying Christmas duffle bags for men serving in the Aleutians, donating a mobile canteen to the Red Cross and 2,400 books to the USO library. The club also filled the need for a drop-in center for women in the military.
Responding to the needs of Soroptimist’s in war-torn Europe, SISM donated undergarments, food, and medical supplies to Soroptimist clubs in Holland and Budapest. The club also supported a nursing school and a weaving project helping women to make a living in China.
In the 1950s, SISM launched the start-up, Seattle Indian Center, and Puget Sound Big Sisters. Members such as Jesse Krueger, director of Travelers Aid and Elizabeth Ayer, the first woman to graduate from UW School of Architecture, were leading voices for the club’s influence in creating programs to serve needs of women, such as the Studio Club, a residential treatment program for women alcoholics.
In the 1970s, the club continued support of longstanding assistance to youth through “camperships” and Outward Bound scholarships for school dropouts. The club acquired a vacant lot in the Central Area to be used for a Pea Patch nutrition program for the Central Area Girls Club. In the 1990s, the land was sold with proceeds seeding the club’s Scholarship Endowment Fund.
In 1976, a SISM member and law student, Kay Frank, worked with the police department, Legal Services, Harborview Hospital, and other referral sources, to create a program to support victims of domestic violence. SISM member and Ret. Superior Court Judge Mary Brucker was one of our members most responsible for taking on this effort to assist women and promote awareness of domestic violence.
Two new clubs were chartered – Auburn and Kent – during this decade.
In the 1980s, service projects included a day care center for low income parents, a three bedroom apartment with Seattle Housing Authority for a homeless family, and Washington Women’s Employment and Education. In addition, Seattle hosted the Soroptimist International Federation Convention. In the 1990s, SISM continued to raise funds for women’s education grants and support local programs serving women in girls in the community.
In the 1990s, club membership and activities slowed down due to the rise of many other competing clubs in the area and inclusion of women in other local clubs. Despite fewer members, SISM continued to raise funds for education grants and provide services in women in the community.
The Twenty-First Century
In the 2000s, the club started its own education scholarship dedicated to longtime member Avys Hathaway, known as the Avys Hathaway Endowment Award.
The club began a tradition of making artisan holiday wreaths as a fundraising item. The Secret Shopper program began in this decade to make the holidays special for low-income elderly and disabled women in our community. A long-time member, Myrene, makes beautiful hand-crafted jewelry, then donates all sale proceeds to the club. The club provided a grant to the YWCA for its Opportunity Place and Angeline’s House, a women’s day shelter, to provide for homeless women in Seattle. Members and friends also provide and serve a Saturday lunch at Opportunity Place for approximately 150 homeless women every spring. In recognition of Seattle’s growing population of homeless children, the club provides grants to the Seattle Public Schools Family Support Program, which provides financial assistance to homeless elementary school students.
With Soroptimist International’s work on human trafficking, the club donated over $20k to The Bridge, a local YouthCare program to help young girls (and a few boys) recover from the commercial sex trade and restart their lives in a new direction.