A Look at the Past: Women in Rotary
by Franci Hart
When I joined Rotary in 1992, there were less than 20 women members in Club 29. A small club in Pasadena, California, in order to survive, admitted two women. And this started the movement to admit women to Rotary. Our presence became obligatory for Club 29 first by a national law suit, then the 1989 Council on Legislation decision.
According to Rotary International, “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 the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several close votes at previous Council meetings.
The response to the decision was overwhelming: By June 1990, the number of female Rotarians had skyrocketed to over 20,000. The number of women members worldwide reached 195,000 in July 2010 (about 16% of Rotarians) and surpassed 277,000 in July 2020 (about 23% ).”
When I joined Club 29 in 1992 there was consternation and confusion among many of the older members. How will these women fit in and what exactly will these women add to our organization?
Yet, I never experienced anything but respect and politeness from my fellow Rotarians.
We women pioneers had an unspoken guideline that we would not all sit at the same table for the meetings. In fact, we seldom sat together. In the 1990s, there was a table of elderly members who had sat together at Rotary for years and years. I remember the first time I invaded their table, so to speak. The courtesy and politeness I experienced were awesome. And, I learned so much from them about Oklahoma City, business and life in general. It was a glorious opportunity that I repeated several times over the years. In fact, these gentlemen would welcome me at their table.
It did not take the male membership long to recognize the energy and work ethic of their female Rotarians. Soon we were given committee chairs, major responsibilities and even elected positions. The companionship and friendships that developed were golden.
I have never regretted my decision to join Rotary. I have learned so much from the programs and more importantly from my fellow Rotarians.