Historic Moments: Rotary in Birmingham
This Club letterhead dates from 1914. Before the standard Rotary Wheel was adopted as the official logo of Rotary International, many clubs designed their own version of the symbol.
A second-time RI Convention host, the Rotary Club of Birmingham, West Midlands, England, has a history of hospitality almost as old as the convention itself.
The Birmingham club was the ninth to be formed outside North America and the sixth to be organized by Stuart Morrow, who worked directly with Rotary founder Paul Harris to extend the organization to the British Isles.
The club was organized on 25 November 1913 and admitted into Rotary on 1 April 1914. At the time of its charter, the club had 140 active members and was larger than the Rotary Club of London.
Given the diversity of local industry, the Birmingham club experienced rapid growth. By the time it published the first issue of its newsletter, Rotaria, in October 1914, the club boasted over 240 members.
Paul Harris comes calling
In the summer of 1928, Harris set off on a 10-week whirlwind tour of Britain, during which he visited more than 50 clubs. On 4 June in Birmingham, he made his first speech to a British Rotary club audience, which included the president-elect of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI).
In the speech, he set forth a theme that resonated throughout the remainder of his tour: “Friendship is not an anemic thing. It is capable of hurling itself over barriers, which have been building between each other through centuries of time.”
Because of the extreme conditions brought on by World War II, the Birmingham club suspended publication of Rotaria in September 1939. The final issue before the war included a letter from T.D. Young, president of RIBI, who told Rotarians:
It is imperative, I think, to point out to you all in the Clubs of G.B. and N.I. that it is absolutely essential that as many as possible of the Clubs should continue in active operation, even for the sake of fellowship alone. This can be summed up in the two simple words, ‘Carry on.’
By July 1940, the club was issuing a quarterly edition of Wartime Rotaria and assisting in the war effort locally and abroad.
In 1984, the Birmingham club hosted the RI Convention, the second convention held in the United Kingdom. Twenty-five years later, Birmingham again has the pleasure of hosting Rotarians from around the world to share in service and fellowship as part of the 100th RI Convention.
For more historical information about Rotary, visit Rotary History and Archives or the Rotary Global History Fellowship.