History of Women in Rotary

Women are active participants in Rotary, serving their communities in increasing numbers and serving in leadership positions in Rotary. However, during Rotary's first 84 years, from 1905-1989, the Constitution and Bylaws of Rotary International stated that Rotary club membership was for males only.
When Rotary International was founded in Chicago by attorney Paul Harris in 1905 it was a time when men dominated the workforce. Women were still 15 years away from being granted the right to vote in the United States. In time, the wives and daughters of Rotarians began to work alongside their husbands on projects, were co-equals in their financial support and often were the encouragement to their spouse assuming leadership roles and responsibilities in their clubs and humanitarian efforts, yet they were prohibited from joining themselves. In many clubs, the wives of the members were called "Rotary Anns." This designation was never one of disparagement, but rather grew out of an interesting historical occasion. (Read more here.)

In 1978, the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, USA, invited three women to become members. The RI Board withdrew the charter of that club for violation of the RI constitution. The club brought suit against RI claiming a violation of a state civil rights law that prevents discrimination of any form in business establishments or public accommodations. Thus begun a protracted and lengthy court battle that was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. Casting doubt on claims by many private clubs that they have constitutional rights to exclude women from membership, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-to-0 decision against Rotary International and it's discriminating, exclusionary, membership. The date was May 4, 1987. Subsequently, the 1989 Council on Legislation voted to remove male from its constitution. Sylvia Whitlock one of the first women to join that Rotary Club of Duarte, went on to become elected as the first woman to serve as a club president.

It took 84 years but Rotary finally got it right. Since these watershed moments, women have become members and leaders of clubs and districts throughout the world. Within our own club, four women (Mandy Nogle, Laura Lee, Austin Bragg & Marissa Dickinson) have served as President since our club's chartering in 2011. Another, Ashley Santolin, will assume the role in July. Currently, our club is equally balanced with men (30 members) and women (31 members).

In July 2022, Jennifer Jones, a member of the Rotary Club of Windsor-Roseland, Ontario, Canada, will become Rotary International’s president for 2022-23, a groundbreaking selection that will make her the first woman to hold that office in the organization’s 115-year history.

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” - International Women's Day 3/8/2022
(Click picture to watch an interview with Sylvia & Jennifer)

Left - Sylvia Whitlock, the first female Rotary Club president. Whitlock's club in Duarte, Calif., broke the rules and allowed women to join 10 years prior to the Supreme Court decision. 
Right - Jennifer Jones, Rotary International’s president for 2022-23; the first woman to hold that office in the organization’s 115-year history.

Jennifer Jones takes a selfie with Marissa Dickinson at WisconZone in La Crosse, WI at 2014. At the time, Marissa was simply a daughter of a Rotarian home to help her dad. She's grateful that Rotary has adapted and involved to allow women to participate and appreciates role models like Jennifer, who pave the way for great things to come in the future.