12th convention - Edinburgh

June 13-16 with 2,523 in attendance


President Snedecor's

It was THE Convention - "perhaps the most amazing- and certainly the most significant - of all the Rotary Conventions ever held". 

David Shelley Nicholl's 

pronouncement cannot be dismissed as hyperbole.

The 1,243 Clubs of Rotary were now an international movement as the Convention left the borders of the USA for the first time.  In preparation for the Convention, British Clubs, especially the host Club of Edinburgh (#62) had to guarantee ¬£4,000 of costs as well as  hotel accommodation for up to 2,000 Rotary visitors in order to bring the Convention to the British Isles.

Edinburgh was an obvious choice as not only was it the home of Rotary in Britain and Ireland but the city was also home to the President of the British Association of Rotary Clubs, Alexander Wilkie. It was also, of course, the native city of Jean Thomson Harris.

On June 1st, the Cunard ships-the Caronia (which docked in Liverpool) and theCameronia in Glasgow-delivered over 1000 Rotarians and their  families  to the shores of Britain. At Glasgow, 200 Glasgow Club #60  members welcomed the party by singing (uncharacteristically) to their somewhat sickly fellow-delegates "I'm a Little Prairie Flower". Later, Sir Harry Lauder would offer the delegates a glass of friendship - "if we could drink it in wartime, surely it will taste all the sweeter in peacetime".


A few visiting Rotarians naturally enjoyed a glass of something stronger as they escaped from newly-introduced Prohibition in their homeland.


As Rotary arrived in Scotland's capital, Princes Street was amass with Rotarians. The singing filled the air.


The journalist Vivian Carter, secretary of the soon-to-be created RIBI, sought to use his talents in the field of public relations. It was the right time to exploit the press. This was a unique opportunity for Rotary to continue its rapid growth. The serious newspapers such as The Times and the Manchester Guardian were genuinely interested and published pre-convention articles but the so-called popular press reserved judgment. The press were probably more interested with the American Rotarian renditions of "Old MacDonald's Farm" on the streets of Edinburgh and reacted with either incredulity or contempt. The visiting delegates showed Britain "the boy-like spirit of America" to quote Vivian Carter, and led the new Secretary to observe: "It would now be a labour of years to persuade the British Press that Rotary really meant anything serious." 

There were, however, many climactic decisions taken at Edinburgh; the (very limited) practice of Freemason-only  Rotary Clubs was utterly condemned. More significantly, the Fourth Object was formally adopted to promote "the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional men united in the ideal of service".  At Edinburgh, a committee was appointed to draw up a new Constitution for the Rotary movement.

Paul Harris, unfortunately, could not attend due to poor health but he made the significant move of appointing Arthur Sheldon as the main speaker to give an inspired address to the delegates as they gathered in the Usher Hall.

Edinburgh also saw the beginning of the end for BARC which was soon replaced with the more familiar RIBI. More importantly, however, the Brits at last pledged their full allegiance to the International Rotary movement by accepting its supremacy. 

This was the Convention that truly defined Rotary  as INTERNATIONAL.

Paul Harris' entire convention message here.

Carter - Romance of Rotary in London
Hewitt - Towards My Neighbour
Nicholl - The Golden Wheel
Prepared by 
Cal Thomson

US President Harding, regrets that he cannot attend the dinner in New York before Rotarians depart for Edinburgh

President Harding writes to RI President Snedecor, Portland, OR, about the need for international understanding.

Greetings to President Snedecor from King George V

King George V, patron of the 12th convention of Rotary






RI Pres Estes Snedecor (right) greeting Rotarian William Logie (left) as he arrives for Edinburgh Convention

May 1921 advertisement for the "First Newspaper in Europe to be represented in a Rotary Club"





Ches Perry reads Paul's written remarks

"First time across the sea... Yesterday, Rotary was a child..."

"The power of Rotary is friendship... Friendship means peace."

"God grant that Rotary be clean and free from the corrupting influences of politics."




"The larger cities should have as many Rotary clubs as there are distinct business centers.."

Praise for great writers and homage to Edinburgh home of his wife, Jean.

RI President-elect McCullough speaks in Belleau France

The Hunter International Cup. What became of it?





Membership card of the time.

July 5, 1921 at the grave of the unknown soldier in Paris.

Rotary leaders go to Buckingham Palace and spend a week in London

The 1921 convention's position is clear on women in Rotary




*Courtesy Wolfgang Ziegler Collection

The Philosophy of Rotary

By Arthur F Sheldon


Delivered to the 1921 International Convention at Edinburgh


Sheldon's greatest speech of approximately 45 minutes (but probably longer as his speech is spread out over 35 pages in the Convention Proceedings) was given without notes and received both a rapturous applause and a standing ovation. It was a strange coincidence that in the city of David Hume, Sheldon embarked on his own Treatise of Human Nature. Sheldon, however, departed from the scepticism of his Scottish predecessor.


After initial remarks, Sheldon began with, "Until the wholly natural laws of human relationships are universally understood, human opinion is bound to differ concerning the Philosophy of Service". Sheldon realised that every Rotarian would have his own personal view on what Rotary is.


The principle of Rotary, Sheldon argues, represents a fact of nature. In fact he emphasised that, "the controlling or governing law of harmonious and profitable human relationships".


He began by defining what philosophy was before embarking on -What is the Philosophy of Service? "Quite naturally", he said, "it flows largely from the fountain of its motto, SERVICE ABOVE SELF - HE PROFITS MOST WHO SERVES BEST."

The natural law of service is actually the basic law of sound economics. The right kind of employee will gravitate toward the business if it truly serves its employees best. Increased salaries and promotion are natural consequences for those who serve their institutions best.


Individuals desire to survive or preserve their self. This is not simply the idea of 'survival of the fittest' but rather that the way to preserve one's self is to serve others. As Sheldon states, "Service to others is enlightened self-interest."


Sheldon's speech was divided into sections described as:

-         The Philosophy of Service deals with the application of reasoning to its legitimate ends.

-         The Philosophy of Service is the science of effects by their causes

-         What will be the result of universal understanding of the Principle of Service?

-         Why should mankind be governed by the philosophy of service?

-         When will there be a universal practice of the principle of service?

-         How are we going to bring this all about?


Sheldon's philosophy was optimistic in nature - "It is going to be much better". Rotary, Sheldon concluded, "Fed by the Eternal Truth of fundamental law it will never 'run dry'.


Calum Thomson



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