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Rotary History

The origins of Paul Harris Fellow recognition

The Paul Harris Fellow recognition acknowledges individuals who contribute, or who have contributions made in their name, of $1,000 to The Rotary Foundation.

Rotary established the recognition in 1957 to encourage and show appreciation for substantial contributions to what was then the Foundation’s only program, Rotary Foundation Fellowships for Advanced Study, the precursor to Ambassadorial Scholarships. 

A.Z. Baker, 1955-56 RI president, admires a newly minted Paul Harris Fellow medallion at the 1969 Rotary Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

The first Paul Harris Fellows included past RI Director Allison G. Brush, who served during the 1937-38 Rotary year, and longtime RI Treasurer Rufus F. Chapin, both for donations made in 1946. Mrs. Adan Vargas was the first woman to receive the recognition, for a gift made in 1953. Mrs. Harry L. Jones was the second, and one of only five people recognized for contributions actually made in that inaugural year. 

Early Paul Harris Fellows received a certificate of recognition. In 1969, the Foundation unveiled the first Paul Harris Fellow medallion at the Rotary Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Japanese metal artist Fiju Tsuda created the piece under the direction of former Foundation Trustee Kyozo Yuasa. Today, Paul Harris Fellows receive a certificate and pin. They are also eligible to buy a Paul Harris Fellow medallion. 

Rotarians have a tradition of supporting the Foundation by honoring others. Ida LeTulle Taylor became a Paul Harris Fellow in 1978 when her husband, Vann Taylor, who was serving as a district governor, made a donation in her name in honor of their 34th wedding anniversary. The gift also made her the 25,000th Paul Harris Fellow. 

  1. The first Paul Harris Fellow medallion, left, and a later version. Various lapel and neck ribbons were used with this medallion throughout the years.

  2. Left: The first men’s lapel pin. Right: The second men’s lapel pin.

  3. Women’s lapel pin, left, was used until 1997. In 1997, the Foundation standardized the designs of the medallion and lapel pin, using the same for men and women, right. Both bear the laurel wreath design of the Multiple Paul Harris Fellow pins and are still in use today.

  4. Left: Introduced in 1984, the blue-stone Multiple Paul Harris Fellow pin recognizes additional donations up to $5,000. Right: Red-stone Multiple Paul Harris Fellow pins were introduced in 1988 to bridge the gap between the blue five-stone pin and Major Donor recognition levels.

At the International Assembly in 1979, incoming RI President James Bomar challenged each Rotary club to make one non-Rotarian a Paul Harris Fellow. The Rotary Club of Pikesville, Maryland, USA, responded by making a donation in the name of Mother Teresa in 1980. The entertainer Pearl Bailey also became a Paul Harris Fellow through a joint effort of the Rotary clubs in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

Many other notable figures have been named Paul Harris Fellows, including U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, U.S. astronaut James Lovell, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, and polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk.

The number of Paul Harris Fellows reached the 1 million mark in 2006.