History of the International Women’s Club of Cape Town *

Founder: Martha C. White

On her arrival in Cape Town in late July 1976, the wife of the recently appointed US Consul General, Martha C. White met with the wives of the Consulate General staff. Their main gripe seemed to be that they were not able to meet local people in a social way. After discussing ways and means, she suggested they might like to form a nucleus for a club to include all women from all races and nationalities.  They then agreed to explore this idea by asking the eleven women in the U.S. Consul General to invite five friends each to a morning coffee to be hosted by Marth White at the Consul General’s residence on Upper Primrose in Bishopscourt. The date for the meeting was set for October 12, 1976, at 10:30.

On October 12, as they gathered for coffee, they found they had quite an enthusiastic group of women and decided without further ado to form a club.  In accordance, Marth White, appointed a nominating committee** and on that day selected from those 32 women present, Mrs Marguerite Vanhoutteghem as President, Mrs Renee Durbach as Vice President, Mrs Chris Berbauer as Treasurer, and Mrs Ruth Sundell as Secretary.  They adjourned the meeting, agreeing to meet at the home of the new president in about a month and that they would, by word of mouth, ask friends to attend if they were interested. The date was set for November 9th at 10:30.

In the interim, Martha White and the new committee worked many hours preparing for the November meeting. They had a new club, enthusiastic women, but no name, no meeting place, and no constitution.  They initially contacted Mrs Gertrude Cooper, Women’s Editor for the Cape Times, feeling she would be able to tell them immediately as to the name of a club.  They had tentatively selected “International Women’s Club of Cape Town,” because in South Africa, the word “international” conveyed immediately that it is a club for all races and nationalities.  Mrs Cooper informed them that they were safe to use that name. She was a great help in getting publicity for the club, interviewing Martha White for an article which appeared on November 9th.  Martha and the Vice President travelled all over Cape Town seeking a meeting place, and although they were received politely when they explained their aims, it wasn’t until they went to the Nico Malan Theatre (now Artscape) and talked with their new young manager, John Hawkins, that they felt that they had found a home! Up until then, the club had been meeting on Tuesdays, but the theatre was busy on that day, so they changed the meeting to the first Thursday of each month, which proved to be fine…and indeed it still is, 45 years on!

Martha and the committee met almost daily for a while to hammer out a constitution. Having arrived in Cape Town fresh from clubs in Finland, Munich and Vienna, Martha had constitutions from those clubs to work with. They also contacted a rather popular club in Johannesburg, the American’s Women’s Club of Johannesburg, to obtain a copy of their constitution. By the time of the next meeting on November 9th, they had a name, The International Women’s Club of Cape Town; a meeting place, the Nico Malan Theatre; and a constitution which was adopted at that meeting.

They decided that with the summer months coming on, they would arrange for the first public meeting to be held on the first Thursday in February 1977. Gertrude Cooper of the Cape Times gave them much support and spoke of the club in her articles anytime the opportunity presented itself, so that when the date arrived, they were all a bit apprehensive as to whether their idea had caught on.  They were overwhelmed by more than 200 women from many nationalities.  The Deputy-Mayoress, Mrs Levia Mauerberger was their first speaker and her great popularity undoubtedly had something to do with the large crowd. In any case, they were very pleased. The club was launched!

Ultimately, those women who attended the organizational meeting on October 12, 1976 became Charter members, while those who became members at the first public meeting on February 3, 1977 became Founder members.

Charter MembersFounder Members
Chris BergbauerMay Ashman
Dawn BurgozneDaphne Bateman
Sandy DemoranJoy Buchanan Black
Denise DominyRosalie Bloch
Linda GatewoodLiz Chapman
Heidi GilesIsobel Chiltern
Jo GoodwinBetty Conyaud
Bulmer GranjaIrene Conley
Anne GrayHazel Corrin
Jane HarperLetitia Curry
Pat HicksDiane Davies
Bonnie KennedyPat de Klerk
Sylvia KlingNina Drummond Hay
Joyce McKrillFlorence Erasmuc
Rita NuytsMyrna Fahrenfort
Kay Robinson Thelma Funston
Give SchuurmansMary Graham
Jenna ScottFrancis Golding
Val StewardAnna Gygax
Ruth SundellEllen Krainer
Marguerite VanhoutteghemPurvis Mancherje
Pauline WatkinsLevia Mauerberger
Judy WilliamsCatherine Mdlulwa
Nicky BenatanJanet Meynell
Renee DurbachBeth Renberthy
Libby RaichmanDoreen Pentz
Sandra ZehYvonne Raizenberg
Margot EpsteinMagdalen Roberts
Martha WhiteSusan Ross
Elana GoodwinTheuna Ryan
Ruth DowningSheila Southerton
Elsa ThomsonDorothy Stubbs
 Blyda Lubbe
 Esme McDonagh
 Luisa Moni
 Renata Scoble
 Rosemary Wormsley
 Joanna van Alphen

* Paraphrased from Mrs. Martha White’s recollections on the 10th Anniversary of the Club in 1987.

** feeling it was awkward for her to accept the presidency, since it would seem like she had created the forum for herself, she asked that her name not be submitted but would like to retain the position of advisor.