Enter Fern Dell from Los Feliz Boulevard and walk up the far right side of the path heading to the Observatory; here you will discover a picnic area perched up on the shady bank right near the pedestrian bridge. Soroptimist Grove. Did you ever wonder “Who are the Soroptimists and how did this get here?”
Soroptimist International is a women’s service organization with 90,000 members in more than 100 countries. The name comes from the Latin soro (women) and optima (best) — “the best for women.” These professional women grant scholarships to young women, usually awarding to the first in a family to pursue higher education. Soroptimists also support a residential program for victims of domestic violence. In 2021, this organization proudly celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The first president of the Soroptimists was Violet Richardson-Ward. Thanks to her, women in many fields today are paid the same as men.
Here’s the story: Richardson-Ward taught physical education at UC Berkeley in 1911 and was paid $20 to lead classes. Her male counterpart, who only took roll, was paid $40. Richardson-Ward demanded equal pay and quit when she didn’t get it. The university president rehired her at $40, but he raised the male teacher’s salary to $60! She resigned again and waited until the regents rehired her at $60, too. Later Richardson-Ward became the Director of Physical Education for the Berkeley School District. Because of her persistence, PE became a required subject for girls as well as boys, way ahead of state mandates. And she accomplished all this without ever having to use the shotgun she reputedly carried when she went hiking in the Berkeley hills!
In 1932, Soroptimist International- Los Angeles (SILA) celebrated its tenth anniversary by presenting a bench and planting trees at the entrance to Fern Dell. Grace Stoermer presented the gifts to the Parks Commission.
Early Soroptimists enjoyed the outdoors. In 1947, they joined with the Redwood League to purchase a 40-acre Soroptimist Grove in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California. SILA used to meet often in Fern Dell. In honor of the Northern California grove, they planted a redwood seedling in Fern Dell.
SILA celebrated its 28th anniversary and their Charter Day Breakfast at Fern Dell in 1950. They also celebrated the two-year anniversary of the dedication of Soroptimist House, a residence for women at the University of Southern California.
FoGP President Gerry Hans and I met with SILA leaders, Amy Poulos, and Regional Governor Lola Abrahamian at Fern Dell in September 2021. We showed them the picnic area’s newly repaired faux bois railings, a project that FoGP funded. Both women were thrilled to see this charming area restored.
Here’s the best footnote: they plan to celebrate SILA’s 100th anniversary in Fern Dell which will be in 2022! FoGP is delighted with the Soroptimists’ continued interest in Fern Dell and we look forward to celebrating with them.
~Marian Dodge, FoGP Board member