Inauguration marks change that has come slowly… and all at once

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Ann Ackerman’s Inauguration marks change that has come slowly … and all at once

Emily Lang 


Just a few weeks ago, our Rotary Club celebrated the inauguration of Ann Ackerman. Ann’s list of achievements is long, and the prestige of the organizations she serves suggests a lifetime of hard work on Ann’s part.

Even in 2019, it can be hard to find women who have earned – and been seated – in the leadership positions Ann has achieved.

My own Rotary membership is still fresh, and Ann’s inauguration made me curious about the historical role of women in Rotary.

Some quick research revealed important truths.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rotary membership was limited to men for much of our organization’s history.

The push for women to participate in Rotary began around 1950, when an enactment to delete the word “male” from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution was proposed by a club in India. Similar proposals were presented at Rotary conventions around the world, but they were either voted down or withdrawn.

The first U.S. Rotary Club to propose allowing female membership was the Rotary Club of Upper Manhattan. The 1972 proposal was rejected after “laughter and discussion” according to history available online.

The 1970s saw the rise of women in the workplace, and with that rise came a prolonged push to include women in civic organizations like Rotary.  Women’s Auxiliary Clubs were formed, and a few rebellious clubs began secretly admitting women.

In 1977, the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, had the gall to introduce three women as members during the Club’s 25th Anniversary Celebration.

For this progressive act, the club’s charter was revoked.

A court battle ensued and ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women could not be excluded from Rotary membership on the basis of gender.

That year, Sylvia Whitlock of Duarte became the first female Rotary club president.

The year was 1987. Spoiler alert: I was 8-years old.

That same year, our recently retired Shirley Kirschner became the first official female member of Club 29.

Today, there are more than 250,000 female Rotarians across the organization.

Change has come to Rotary, internationally and in Oklahoma.

Since 2001, six of our district governors have been female, including our immediate past district governor, Jessica Sherrill.

In Club 29, four of our past presidents have been female. Ann Ackerman makes the fifth.

Ann has a long history of service to our community, including her role as president of the Oklahoma Business Roundtable and volunteer service in the realms of education and healthcare.

Impressively, she’s director of the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, a trustee for the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics Foundation, adviser to Leadership Oklahoma City, member of the University of Central Oklahoma’s Council of Advisors (Go Bronchos!), member of the Children’s Hospital Foundation Board of Advocates and board member of the Annie Oakley Society, benefiting the Oklahoma Western Heritage Museum.

She’s a member of the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, she was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Oklahoma by Friday and in 2014 was one of the Journal Record’s Most Admired CEO’s.

Ann has earned her seat at our community’s head table.

Elsewhere, there is still work to be done.

The list of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies comes in at a whopping 33.

Across the globe, 58 countries have elected female leaders throughout their history, but the United States isn’t among them.

In Oklahoma, the list of female elected governors stands at 1.

Oklahoma City has elected just one female mayor, Patience Latting, who served from 1971 to 1983.

I am personally thankful for a Rotary Club that encourages women not just to serve, but to lead.

That doesn’t describe our organization’s past, but it can certainly be our future. Thanks to Ann Ackerman and those who fought before her, it is real in the present.



6 Comments for : Inauguration marks change that has come slowly… and all at once
    • Lesli Massad
    • July 25, 2019

    Thank you for sharing your research findings with us. And congratulations to Ann for being both a leader and role model to many. Onward and upward!

    • David Walters
    • July 25, 2019

    Well done….thank you Emily for that research and contribution to our history.

    • Rick Vermillion
    • July 25, 2019

    Aren’t we a club of business leaders, not a gender different club. ALL members matter! And our club has had some of the community’s best, both men and women. 1988 was a long time ago for a lot of us.
    Can’t we be a club of members doing “Service Above Self” no matter what gender?

    • Clayton Taylor
    • July 25, 2019

    Thanks for the good information. Please be reminded that Meg Salyer was our first female Club 29 President in 2003-2004 and was also the first female President for a Large Rotary Club in the U.S. She did an exceptional job as President and has remained an active member! Thanks Meg for leading the way!

    • Crystal Bennett
    • July 26, 2019

    Excellent article. Thank you for your research and information.

    • Georgianna Fiering
    • July 29, 2019

    Thank you, Emily, for that historical and maybe, hysterical, perspective. I didn’t realize that it went to the Supreme Court!
    So glad to have you in Club 29. I know you will be a great asset.

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