Historic Moments: The life of Rotary founder Paul Harris
Paul Harris's childhood home in Wallingford, Vermont, USA.
B orn in Racine, Wisconsin, USA, on 19 April 1868, Paul P. Harris was the second of six children of George N. and Cornelia Bryan Harris.
At age three, he moved to Wallingford, Vermont, where he grew up in the care of his paternal grandparents, Howard and Pamela Harris. He attended the University of Vermont and Princeton University and received his law degree from the University of Iowa in 1891.
While he was in school, both of Harris's grandparents died, and he spent the five years after graduation traveling around the country and working odd jobs. After arriving penniless in San Francisco in 1891, he worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and then as a ranch hand, grape picker, actor, and cowboy. He was also a hotel night clerk in Jacksonville, Florida, and a traveling marble and granite salesman.
In 1896, he settled in Chicago and opened a law practice. Along with Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram Shorey, he founded the Rotary Club of Chicago in 1905 and was elected its president in 1907.
Club membership grew rapidly. Many members were originally from small towns and found an opportunity for fellowship in the Chicago club. Harris was convinced that the club could be expanded into a service movement and strove to extend Rotary to other communities.
In 1910, he met Jean Thomson during an outing with the Prairie Club, a Chicago-based organization for wilderness enthusiasts. Harris and Thomson married three months later and settled on Chicago's South Side.
In the same year, the National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed, and Harris was elected its first president. He held the office for two years and afterward became president emeritus, serving as the public face of the organization and promoting membership extension and service around the world.
He wrote several books about Rotary and his life and travels, including The Founder of Rotary and This Rotarian Age.
In addition to his work with Rotary, Harris was involved in other civic organizations, including the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, City Club of Chicago, Chicago Bar Association, Prairie Club, and Easter Seals. He was also recognized by the Boy Scouts of America and honored by the governments of Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Peru.
Harris died on 27 January 1947, leaving a rich legacy of fellowship, professionalism, service, and friendship. His passing also sparked an outpouring of donations to The Rotary Foundation from all over the world, allowing the Foundation to greatly expand its programs and services.