Historic Moments -- Council votes to admit women
Carolyn E. Jones became the first woman appointed as trustee of The Rotary Foundation, serving from 2005 to 2009. See more of her story in an excerpt
from RVM: The Rotarian Video Magazine,
volume 4, issue 3. Rotary Images
The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.
"My fellow delegates, I would like to remind you that the world of 1989 is very different to the world of 1905. I sincerely believe that Rotary has to adapt itself to a changing world," said Frank J. Devlyn, who would go on to become RI president in 2000-01.
The vote followed a decades-long effort of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow for the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several close votes at previous Council meetings.
In 1950, an enactment to delete the word male from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution was proposed by a club in India during the Council. From 1950 to 1989, the Council considered 13 proposals to allow women into Rotary.
In 1977, the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, USA, decided to admit women as members in violation of the RI Constitution and Standard Rotary Club Constitution. Because of this violation, the club's membership in Rotary International was terminated in March 1978.
In a lawsuit filed by the Duarte club in 1983, the California Superior Court ruled in favor of Rotary International, upholding gender-based qualification for membership in California Rotary clubs. But in 1986, the California Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision, preventing the enforcement of the provision in the state. The California Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On 4 May 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary clubs may not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Rotary issued a policy statement asserting that any Rotary club in the United States could admit qualified women into membership. The RI Board of Directors encouraged "all clubs in the U.S. to give fair and equal consideration to candidates for membership without regard to gender."
In 1989, at its first meeting after the Supreme Court ruling, the Council on Legislation in Singapore voted to eliminate the requirement in the RI Constitution that membership in Rotary clubs be limited to men.
More than 20 years after the Council's vote, there are nearly 200,000 female Rotarians. Women have served in leadership positions as high as the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees. (Watch a video about women in Rotary from RVM: The Rotarian Video Magazine, volume 4, issue 3.)
The first female Council representative served in 1998. The 2010 Council is the first in which a female RI director is serving, as a nonvoting member.
See previous Historic Moments on the Council: