A curious piece

A curious piece
After initial hesitation about ceding territory for the formation of new clubs, the London Rotary Club had witnessed the opening of a second club in the capital in 1923 in Streatham. By the time of Paul Harris' visit to London in 1934, there were over one hundred clubs but it was appropriate that on Thursday April 12, after a visit to the RIBI's offices in Tavistock Square, Harris went to a lunch meeting of the Streatham Club. The meeting was held at the Manor Arms, a public house in Streatham High Road, where he was greeted by the President, the Rev W Charter Piggott and had his photograph taken with Past President Samuel Stevens. Stevens was the proprietor of the Streatham News in which the picture was subsequently published!

The subject of the meeting was a talk by a visiting Rotarian about a questionnaire sent to certain clubs by the Rawlins Club of Wyoming. This asked for opinions about the situation in post war Europe and the relations between Europe and the United States. Clubs were asked to comment on these matters although as Harris wrote, "If the Rawlins Rotarians will subscribe to the London Times, the Manchester Guardian and the Scotsman, they will be able to get carefully considered presentations of view points which are the generally accepted view points in Great Britain."

During his tour, Paul Harris had already heard of this questionnaire from other British Rotarians although he was apparently unaware of its purpose. Clearly, he did not appear in much sympathy with it; the speaker certainly was not and expressed his views with "invectives which he brought to bear with devastating effect on certain of the questions propounded by the Rotary Club of Rawlins."

Paul Harris was given the opportunity to address the meeting but beyond describing his address as "interesting", the club's records do not suggest that he made any significant reference to the questionnaire and he himself made no such entry in his account of the day's events.

Afterwards, he was driven back to Central London by Arthur N Monahan, the Streatham Club Vice President, who "expressed considerable embarrassment as to what had been said in my presence...". Although Paul Harris had no doubts that Rotary should not take political sides, he did feel, after this experience, that "we may find it necessary to modify or even to suspend our traditional policy of avoiding political discussions." He was, however, well aware that to do so would mean "treading on dangerous ground." With the Second World War but five years ahead and the disbanding of the Rotary Clubs in Germany even nearer, this was a policy which would, in any case, soon need modification."

This questionnaire may well have been unique but it was a mammoth undertaking for a club of only 31 members. In its report to the Governor of District 7 in January 1934, the Rawlins Club wrote that its "International Service Committee...has just recently mailed a letter and questionnaire to every Rotary Club in the world located outside of the United States. The postage on these letters alone was 61.00 dollars. When the replies are received, we will have a valuable contribution to make to Rotary - for this questionnaire covers many of the most complex international problems of the day. Our ISC has already received replies from several of the Canadian Clubs. The replies are most interesting. The Rawlins Club believes that this questionnaire to foreign clubs will be an out standing piece of international service work for the Seventh District."

Gen RawlinsAt their District Conference in Colorado Springs in May 1934, the club outlined their results and stressed the worth and value of what they had done. By November when the DG reported to RI on his visit to the club, over 1200 mailings had resulted in over 600 replies and they were still coming in, indeed one from the London Club arrived as he was making his visit. The DG was clearly impressed and wrote to RI "respectfully urging a complete and exhaustive study and analysis of the many answers to the great Rawlins Questionnaire". He described it as a "most worthy effort to learn of the world of thought of our Rotary brothers on subjects, that if discussed sensibly and with honesty of desire could only promote better understanding, and better understandings go for promotion of peace and the elimination of warring purpose".

What happened to this questionnaire and its conclusions is not clear. One copy of a club's answers have turned up but no copy of the questions. This questionnaire is one of the more curious and interesting episodes in the History and it may be unique that a club as small as Rawlins was, should circulate the entire movement outside the USA.

Basil Lewis

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