Interesting Bits of Rotary History

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The Beginnings of Rotary - 1905

On February 23, 1905 four men met in an office in Room 711 of the Unity Building on Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago to discuss the formation of a club where businessmen could share friendship with one another and at the same time use this trusted circle of friends to exchange trade. The idea was generated by Paul Harris, an attorney who had grown up in Wallingford, Vermont. Paul met with coal dealer Silverster Schiele, mining engineer Gustavus Loehr, and merchant tailor Hiram Shorey. This meeting proved to be an important event in the history of volunteerism. Although the initial focus was on fellowship and business networking, members soon incorporated the elements of service.

Women in Rotary

Chapter 16 of the book "A Century of Service, The Story of Rotary International" by David C. Forward is an interesting history of the role of Women in Rotary. For its first 80+ years, Rotary International was a male organization - women were excluded from membership. In 1978, in direct contravention of their constitution, the Rotary Club of Duarte, California admitted three women as members. Rotary International revoked the club's charter, prompting a lawsuit by the club and the three women. Prior to the Duarte case, many Rotary clubs had sent proposals to Rotary's parliamentary body petitioning for a constitutional change permitting women to join. But the decision was taken out of Rotary's hands. On May 4, 1987, in a 7-0 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Rotary International and in favor of the Duarte club and the three women. The RI Board took action that it would not enforce male-only membership provisions in any country whose laws clearly required the equal treatment of men and women.

Contrary to the dire claims of the naysayers, the women who joined were not husband-stealing temptresses, but bankers, shopkeepers, computer executives, school principals and lawyers. Rotarians have found that the new wave of women members brought vitality and creativity to their clubs. Shelley Foltz served as the first woman President of our own Rotary Club of West Olympia in the 2004-2005 Rotary year.