Rotary History: Historic Moments with Rotary Women

Historic Moments: Women in Rotary


Carolyn Jones, 1st Rotary Woman Trustee

CatherineNoyer-Roveau, 1st Rotary Woman Director

Oct. 2009 - The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary. "My fellow delegates, I would like to remind you that the world of 1989 is very different to the world of 1905. I sincerely believe that Rotary has to adapt itself to a changing world," said Frank J. Devlyn, who would go on to become RI president in 2000-01.

The vote followed the decades-long efforts of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow for the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several close votes at previous Council meetings. The response to the decision was overwhelming: By 1990, the number of female Rotarians had skyrocketed to over 20,000.

Twenty years after the Council on Legislation's vote, Rotary has nearly 188,000 female Rotarians. Women have served in leadership positions as high as the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees.

Timeline of women in Rotary

1950 - An enactment to delete the word male from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution is proposed by a Rotary club in India for the Council on Legislation meeting at the 1950 RI Convention.

1964 - The Council on Legislation agenda contains an enactment proposed by a Rotary club in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to permit the admission of women into Rotary clubs. Delegates vote that it be withdrawn. Two other proposals to allow women to be eligible for honorary membership are also withdrawn.

1972 - As more women begin reaching higher positions in their professions, more clubs begin lobbying for female members. A U.S. Rotary club proposes admitting women into Rotary at the 1972 Council on Legislation.

1977 - Three separate proposals to admit women into membership are submitted to the Council on Legislation for consideration at the 1977 RI Convention. A Brazilian club makes a different proposal to admit women as honorary members. The Rotary Club of Duarte, California, USA, admits women as members in violation of the RI Constitution and Standard Rotary Club Constitution. Because of this violation, the club's membership in Rotary International is terminated in March 1978, only to be reinstated in September 1986.

1980 - The RI Board of Directors and Rotary clubs in India, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States propose an enactment to remove from the RI and club constitutions and bylaws all references to members as male persons .

1983-86 - In a lawsuit filed by the Duarte club in 1983, the California Superior Court rules in favor of Rotary International, upholding gender-based qualification for membership in California Rotary clubs. In 1986, the California Court of Appeals reverses the lower court's decision, preventing the enforcement of the provision in California. The California Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, and it is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

1987 - On 4 May, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Rotary clubs may not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Rotary issues a policy statement that any Rotary club in the United States can admit qualified women into membership. The Board "encourages all clubs in the U.S. to give fair and equal consideration to candidates for membership without regard to gender."

The Rotary Club of Marin Sunrise, California (formerly Larkspur Landing), is chartered on 28 May. It becomes the first club after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to have women as charter members. Sylvia Whitlock, of the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, becomes the first female Rotary club president.

1988 - In November, the RI Board of Directors issues a policy statement recognizing the right of Rotary clubs in Canada to admit female members based on a Canadian law similar to that upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

1989 - At its first meeting after the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Council on Legislation votes to eliminate the requirement in the RI Constitution that membership in Rotary clubs be limited to men. Women are welcomed into Rotary clubs around the world.

1990 - As of June, there are about 20,200 female Rotarians worldwide. Read a feature on women in Rotary from the June 1990 issue of The Rotarian.

1995 - In July, eight women become district governors, the first elected to this role.

2005 - Carolyn E. Jones begins her term as the first woman appointed as trustee of The Rotary Foundation, serving from 2005 to 2009. Carolyn made history by working hard at what she believes in and then-RI President-elect Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar noticed.

2007 - In July, 63 women begin terms as district governors. Women are members of 25,227 clubs around the world. There are 177,859 female Rotarians. (Marlene B. Brown, Charter President of Rotary eClub NY1, a second-generation Rotarian, became the first Governor from a Rotary eClub)

2008 - Catherine Noyer-Riveau begins her term as the first woman appointed to the RI Board of Directors. She will continue to serve through June 2010. A third-generation Rotarian, Catherine joined Rotary in 1991 and is a member of the Rotary Club of Paris.

2009 - There are 187,967 female Rotarians worldwide. Sixty-three serve as district governors.

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1905 - Chicago attorney Paul P. Harris convenes the first Rotary meeting on 23 February in Room 711 of the Unity Building in Chicago. Harris envisions a professional club that brings together men from a variety of vocations. Gustavus Loehr, Hiram Shorey, and Silvester Schiele attend. The meeting sets the groundwork for the world's first service club: the Rotary Club of Chicago.

Source: Rotary International

Copyright 2003-04 Rotary eClub NY1 * Updated 2009
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