Rotary History Timeline

Rotary History Timeline
Women in Rotary


1866 - The Young Women's Christian Assoc. (YWCA) founded in Boston, MA  Please, also refer to a list of "Other Women's Milestones" from 1866 to 1920


19 April, Paul Percy Harris is born in Racine, Wisconsin to George H. and Cornelia E. Harris.



Paul becomes a founding member of the Prairie Club of Chicago. On one of the club's early hikes a beautiful young woman from Edinburgh, Scotland points out a tear in his jacket and offers to fix it. Jean Thomson and Paul Harris were married several months later. The marriage lasts for 37 years until Paul's death in 1947.


First Rotary convention was held in Chicago, 15-17 August, with sixteen clubs in Rotary. The National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed. Paul Harris was elected president of the Association and served two terms. Chesley R. Perry began 32 years of service as Secretary, then General Secretary of Rotary from 1910-1942. 


At the RI Convention in Chicago, some delegates made the first attempt at official sanction of 'Women's Auxiliaries. It was rejected overwhelmingly.



July 1912 - Belfast Rotarians vote to refuse membership to women

6-9 August - 50 Clubs meet in Duluth with delegates from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and the organization becomes "The International Association of Rotary Clubs." London joins the same year as the 50th club. 5,000 members. Paul Harris is named President emeritus. 

At the RI Convention in Duluth, the second attempt at official sanction of 'Women's Auxiliaries received a cold shoulder by the 598 delegates.

Also in 1912, Paul bought Jean a large home and they named their home after a road in Edinburgh, "Comely Bank." There they started their life long friendship garden.


22-26 June and 1,288 Rotarians make the long journey to Houston, TX, USA.  Rotarian Henry Brunier of San Francisco and his wife "Ann" boarded a special train for the convention. Since Ann was the only woman on the train for most of the trip, the other Rotarians began calling her "Rotary Ann". In Houston the Bruniers met Guy and Ann Gundaker of Philadelphia. Soon the name "Rotary Ann"  belonged to Guy's wife as well. The term "Rotary Ann" lasted until the late 1980's. Gundaker was RIP 1923-24.

Paul Harris' mother, Cornelia Bryan Harris dies in Denver, Colorado. Paul had spent very little time with his parents who never seemed to be able to keep their family together. It was Paul's grandfather whose quiet generosity maintained his parents. Paul's father, George, never very successful in life, is vigilant as his wife's caretaker at the end of her life.

Club #500 Fremont, Nebr., U.S.A.


24 May 1921 - Mrs. Alwilda F. Harvey, wife of the then Chicago Rotary Club president, stepped into a leadership that brought fifty-nine Rotary wives together at a luncheon in the Sherman House. Then and there Alwilda became founder and president of a new organization, first called the Women of Rotary. She made a good speech, and some of it got into the records. (Neither the men or women of Chicago favoured the RotaryAnn nomenclature.) Mrs Alwilda F Harvey, wife of Club #1's President went on to say: "Women through the ages have always practiced 'Service Above Self' now we have the opportunity to put the slogan into practice in serving our community". The new movement was chartered in Illinois state as a non-profit corporation on May 22nd 1923.


13 June 1921 - At the International Convention in Edinburgh, Rotary releases a supplement to the 1920 Proceedings written for all members, called the 'Manual of Procedure.' It included prohibitions on women as members of Rotary, or women’s clubs that used the Rotary name. It permitted a “Ladies’ Auxiliary” for a Rotary club, however.


15 November 1923 - Manchester, England, produced an invitation for Rotary wives to discuss, "Proposed Formation of a Ladies Rotary Club in Manchester" The idea of a women's Rotary Club was dropped immediately, but, under the leadership of Mrs. Oliver Golding, the wives adopted the title of Inner Wheel.

1928 Paul Harris' 1928 autobiography "The Founder of Rotary" is published.

November 1928 - Oklahoma City, Club 29 is responsible for the origin of the Rotary Ann auxiliary organization, after it was proposed by OKC Rotarian Virgil Browne's wife, Maimee Lee.

1935 Paul and Jean Harris travel to Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Canada attending conferences, planting "Friendship Trees," and Paul writes a statement of international philosophy from Parramatta, Australia.

Paul Harris writes "This Rotarian Age" and includes his comments on women in business and women and Rotary.

1935 Paul Harris writes his second autobiography, "This Rotarian Age," this time mostly about the evolution of Rotary in the first 30 years of the organization.

Jean Harris becomes the first Honorary Member of the Inner Wheel Club of Edinburgh.


27 January - After a many years of ill health, Rotary founder Paul Harris dies (see obituary)  Following his death Jean experiences a break down.


Paul's widow, Jean Thomson Harris, alone and childless, sold "Comely Bank" and lived in a Chicago hotel. Until 1955, she was involved incharity and philanthropy.





The Rotary Foundation admits women as Ambassadorial Scholarships recipients.

1950 18-22 June 1950 - The Rotary Club of Ahmedabad, India, proposes Enactment 50-10 to the International Convention in Detroit. It would delete the word MALE from Article III of the Standard Club Constitution. It was overwhelmingly rejected.
1955 Rotary's Golden Jubilee features a last appearance by Rotary's "First Lady." Following the 50th anniversary convention (1955), held in Chicago, Jean Thomson Harris returned to Edinburgh.

First Interact club was formed by Melbourne, Florida U.S.A. Rotary Club. In August of 1962, Jean Harris attends a small reception for the 50th anniversary of RC of Edinburgh. RI president elect Carl P. Miller was in attendance. RC of Edinburgh kept in close touch with Mrs. Harris until her death. The club maintains signs and remembrances to this day.


9 November 1963 - Jean Thomson Harris dies in a Nursing Home in Newington, Edinburgh, the day after her 82nd birthday.

 (See )


June 1964 - The agenda of the Council meeting at the RI Convention in Toronto contains an enactment for the admission of women to Rotary clubs. Convention delegates vote that it be withdrawn.


January 1972 - The Rotary Club of Upper Manhattan, New York, USA, proposes an enactment, 72-48, to admit women to Rotary clubs to the Council on Legislation. After laughter and discussion, 72-48 is rejected.


January 1977 - Four enactments are proposed to the Council on Legislation that would essentially permit women members of Rotary, 77-16, 77-75, 77-70 and 77-94. Also proposed by Upper Manhattan, 77-16, which prohibited membership restrictions based on sex, was rejected. The other three were subsequently withdrawn. The Rotary Club of Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil, in 77-35, proposed to allow women to become honorary members. It also was rejected.


1 June 1977 - Duarte held its 25th Anniversary Celebration and introduced the three women, Mary Lou Elliott, Donna Bogart and Rosemary Freitag, as members.


February 1978 - Rotary International first revokes the charter of the Duarte club. The club requests a hearing. The Board then tells Duarte that it must remove women members.

27 March 1978 - Rotary International Board of Directors officially revokes the Charter of the Duarte club. Duarte decides to continue to meet as a quasi-Rotary Club. An X was placed over the Rotary insignia, new pins were made, and the club was called: The Ex-Rotary Club of Duarte.

June 1978 - The Rotary Club of Duarte, California, files suit in Los Angeles Superior Court.


1983 - The Duarte case finally goes to trial in. California State Judge Max Deutz refuses to reinstate the club. The Duarte club immediately appeals the decision.


1984, Carl E. Swenson, Governor of District 5030, appoints Lloyd Hara as Governor’s Special Representative to a new club in the Pioneer Square and International District area of Seattle. 

18 September 1984 - The Seattle-ID club was chartered with Lloyd Hara the president.


1986 - The California State Appeals Court reverses Judge Deutz, stating that Rotary Clubs are business establishments subject to regulation under the state's Unruh Act, which bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion or ethnic origin. Rotary International immediately appeals the case to the California Supreme Court, who refuses to hear the case.


1986 - Rotary International appeals the decision to the U. S. Supreme Court.


31 July 1986 - The Seattle-International District club unanimously votes to admit women.


4 September 1986 - The Seattle-International District  club admits 15 women.


15 September 1986 - the Seattle-ID club hires Margaret McKeown as counsel, files a suit and seeks an injunction against RI, and announces its admission of 15 women.


January 1987 - The Seattle-International District  club files an Amicus brief in the Duarte case.


February 1987 - California PETs includes 310 men and one woman, Sylvia Whitlock.


4 May 1987 - The United States Supreme Court affirmed the 1986 ruling of the Court of Appeals of California in a 7 - 0 opinion.


1 July 1987 - Sylvia Whitlock begins term as the first woman club president of RI and Duarte, California.


1988 - The Rotary International Board recognized the right of Rotary clubs in Canada to admit women.

June 1988 - Duarte President Sylvia Whitlock and Seattle-ID President-Elect Karilyn van Soest attend the International Convention in Philadelphia.

1 July 1988 - Karilyn van Soest begins term as second woman club president of RI and president of Seattle-ID club.

February Helen Reisler becomes first woman member of The Rotary Club of New York


January 1989 - Council on Legislation votes to change Constitution and Bylaws of Rotary to admit women. 

1 July 1989 - Council on Legislation changes take effect, and women are officially welcomed in Rotary


1 July 1995 - Eight women take office as District Governors. They include Mimi Altman, RC of Deerfield, IL, Dist. 6440; Gilda Chirafisi, RC of Riverdale, NY, Dist. 7230; Janet W. Holland, RC of Mineral Wells, TX, Dist 5790; Reba F. Lovrien, RC of Albuquerque Del Norte, NM, Dist. 5520; Virginia B. Nordby, RC of Ann Arbor North, MI, Dist. 6380; Donna J. Rapp, RC of Midland Morning, MI, Dist. 6310; Anne Robertson, RC of Fulton, KY, Dist. 6710; and Olive P. Scott, RC of Cobleskill, NY, Dist. 7190.


1 July 1997 - PDG Gilda Chirafisi, District 7230, begins second term as woman club president of the RC of Riverdale, NY, the first woman in RI to serve as president twice.


January 1998 - PDG Virginia B. Nordby becomes the first woman delegate to the Council on Legislation that met in New Delhi, India. 

June 1998 - Rotary International presents its highest honor, the Rotary Award for World Understanding (RAWU), to Dr. Catherine Hamlin.


1 July 2001 - Sylvia Whitlock, District 5030, begins second term as woman club president of the Duarte club, the second woman in RI to serve as president twice.

July Helen Reisler becomes first woman President of the Rotary Club of New York In the club's 92 year history, after sitting on the Board of Directors for 10 years. September 2001  Helen Reisler becomes the first Rotary Club President, in the United States, to address the challenge of a terrorist attack in her own city, successfully                  coordinating emergency and relief efforts  for victims and first responders


1 July 2005, Carolyn E. Jones, PDG District 5010, Alaska, USA becomes the first woman trustee of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International

2008 1 July 2008, Catherine Noyer-Riveau, of Paris, France, Zone 11, elected to serve as the first woman on the Rotary International board.
2009 There are 187,967 female Rotarians worldwide. Sixty-three serve as district governors.
2010 More than 199,000 women are members of Rotary clubs worldwide, with an increasing number serving as district governors.
2012 Elizabeth S. Demaray begins her term as treasurer, the first woman to serve in this position
2013 Anne L. Matthews begins her term as the first woman to serve as RI vice president.  2013-15:  Celia De Giay from Argentina and Mary Ann Growney-Selene from Wisconsin became Directors
2017 Brenda M. Cressey, TRF Trustee 2017-2021 begins her term as treasurer.

Go to All RGHF Menus

RGHF members, who have been invited to this page, may register

RGHF members, who have been invited to this page, may register
If a DGE/N/D joins prior to their year, they will have more exposure to Rotary's Global History by their service year.
This will be beneficial to all concerned.
*Based on paid members, subscribers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, mobile app users, History Library users, web pages, and articles about Rotary's Global History

RGHF Home | Disclaimer | Privacy | Usage Agreement | RGHF on Facebook | Subscribe | Join RGHF |