Our program featured Emmaus Rotarian Alicia Ruiz-Orbin who did a presentation of the history of women in Rotary. During the first 82 years of Rotary women were, by rule, not allowed to be members of any Club. Their participation was limited to auxiliary-style groups where they were know as Rotary Anns. In the United States, this situation technically ended on May 4, 1987 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary Clubs may not exclude people from membership on the basis of gender.
The journey to this landmark decision was long and complicated. Ideas for changing the rules of Rotary are only considered every three years at something known as the Council on Legislation. Representatives from every District come together to discuss and vote on proposed enactments. A Club in India proposed an enactment as far back as 1950 that would have eliminated the word “male” from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution. The enactment failed to pass. Subsequent proposals in 1964 and 1972 shared a similar fate. The Rotary International Board of Directors tried their own proposal in 1980. Other proposals rolled in from countries as diverse as India, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Still no success.
A critical moment came in 1977 when the Rotary Club of Duarte, California offered membership to Sylvia Whitlock and four other women. Within a year, the Duarte Rotary Club lost their Charter in response to this action. Undaunted, the members continued their charitable work calling themselves the EX-Rotary Club of Duarte. The issue made its way through the U.S. court system for 11 years until the fateful Supreme Court ruling. That ruling only covered the United States. A separate ruling in 1988 extended the rule to Canada. Finally, in 1989, the Council on Legislation finally passed the ruling for all of Rotary. The Rotary Club of Duarte had their Charter restored. Sylvia Whitlock would become the first female Club President. Gradually other women began taking their rightful place as leaders in the organization including District Governors, RI Directors, and Foundation Trustees. On July 1, 2022, Jennifer Jones will become the first female President of Rotary International.