Free Portland News

March 2021 by Keith - Happy Birthday Rotary

Happy Birthday Rotary


I am writing this on Rotary’s 116th.birthday, so a Very Happy Birthday to all Rotarians everywhere,, and a Very Big Thankyou to the staff at the Weymouth Pavilion for illuminating the Theatre in Rotary colours of blue and gold.  As they say, it pays to advertise. Thank you so much.
This month’s offering will be different from previous reports as I have been taken to task for putting a letter in the Echo telling readers that Rotary started with four lonely men in Chicago.   I believe the implication was that I should not have used the word men because I was giving the impression that Rotary is a male-only organisation which is patently not true as our own club President this year is a lady, and indeed we have more lady members than gentlemen on board.  I suppose I could have named the four as Paul, Hiram, Gus, and Sylvester and said that they were four business acquaintances meeting with a view to networking and becoming friends, but that would probably have been misinterpreted as well.  The battle to decide whether Rotary, the oldest Service organisation in the world, should change to become dual gender was fought, and decided, 23 years ago and my report was simply a statement of facts – I was not stressing any personal opinion.   However, this topic is still, apparently, causing problems so it occurred to me that this might be an opportune moment to explain to FPN readers the saga of “Women in Rotary”, and for those I have offended, albeit inadvertently, please accept my humble apologies. 
In 1905 the world was a very different place from the one we inhabit nowadays- and I am merely being factual again and not judgemental.   1905 was pre World Wars, most of the businesses were run by men, ladies would not be elected to our Parliament for another 13 years and it would be even longer before we had a lady as Prime Minister, and we had no ladies among the clergy,   In those days Chicago, where the four met, was nothing more than a large bustling cattle town and not the metropolis it is today.   Yes, a very different world indeed, and men-only clubs were legal – rightly or wrongly.  
Times changed, more ladies became business and professional people and the Rotary movement moved with those times.    In 1988 the Rotary Club of Duarte in California elected a number of new members, who turned out shortly afterwards to be members of the fairer sex, which was not technically allowed in a men-only organisation – at that time. This was an emotive subject, and emotions ran high.  It took the US Supreme Court to sort out this one.  Obviously the situation needed to be regularised internationally.  Interestingly there were organisations at that time which catered for ladies only e.g. Inner Wheel, Zonta International, Soroptomists and Business and Professional Women’s Association    As Governor of our Rotary District I personally received representations from these organisations claiming that, if Rotary accepted ladies, their recruitment could be affected.    You may not believe it but I also received representations from the wives of Rotarians who told me that, if ladies joined Rotary their husbands would start having affairs with them!!  As I said, very emotive.
Consequently Rotary International held a big meeting in Singapore the following year where, among other things, we discussed whether Rotary International should become a dual gender organisation.  As our District’s representative I was there when we voted to accept ladies, and by a large majority.  The Portland club received its first lady member within a year or two, and today, we have already had several lady Presidents of our club as well as the current one, a lady Governor in charge of our Wessex District, and the President of Rotary International in 2022 will be a lady as well.
I cannot change history, have no intention of living in the past, and do not plan on laying myself open to criticism by giving my opinion on what, apparently still appears to be a controversial subject in some sectors over twenty years later.  Incidentally the ladies who joined the Duarte Club did not last very long after they had made their point – they resigned, but they had opened the door.  Rotary is, and will remain, a non-sexist, non-political organisation, comprised of people of all colours, creeds, religions and interests whose only aim in life is to help those parts of humanity that are less fortunate than ourselves. And in so doing we have a tremendous amount of fun.   Perhaps, more importantly, Rotary offers many opportunities for making friends, of all kinds, all over the world.
So there you have it – what we did, and why.  Hopefully we can now lay this matter to rest.
And Yes, of course, a Very Happy Birthday indeed to Rotary and to all Rotarians.     
Keith