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Rotary History

Rotary and Boys' Week

The history of Rotary’s work with young people dates to the 1920s, when many clubs took part in an international event known as Boys’ Week.

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The Rotary Club of Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA, sponsored a float in a 1924 Loyalty Day parade.

The first Boys’ Week was held in New York City in May 1920 by the Rotary Club of New York and other local groups. The event was part of an effort to promote youth development in education, citizenship, health and hygiene, and vocation.

New York club members reported on the success of Boys’ Week at the 1920 Rotary Convention, hoping that it would become part of the previously established Boys’ Work program. That program encouraged Rotary clubs to work within their communities to develop good citizens by countering juvenile delinquency, truancy, and poor physical health.

Boys’ Week events quickly spread throughout the world. By the mid-1920s, they were being held in almost 600 locations across 25 countries. In 1928, the number of participating cities and towns had grown to about 3,000.

The focus expanded to include girls, who rode on the float sponsored by the Rotary Club of Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA, in a 1924 Loyalty Day parade held in conjunction with Boys’ Week.

By the late 1920s, the United States had established a National Boys’ Week Committee, and Rotary participated. Rotary clubs were encouraged to support their local Boys’ Week events to achieve the goals of the Boys’ Work program.

Rotary produced a set of radio dramas for its 50th Anniversary in 1954-55. This episode, “Spotlight on Youth,” highlights Boys and Girls Week. 

In 1934, Boys’ Week became known as Youth Week, and in 1936, Boys’ and Girls’ Week.

The RI Board of Directors discontinued Rotary’s official sponsorship of the week in 1954 but encouraged clubs to continue participating in local youth service initiatives. Rotary went on to form other programs for young people, starting with Interact, Rotaract for young leaders, and Rotary Youth Exchange, for students who stay with host families in another country. 

In 2010, Youth Service became Rotary’s fifth Avenue of Service. Rotarians recognize the positive change that young people bring about through leadership development activities, community and international service projects, and exchange programs that enrich and foster world peace and cultural understanding.

  1. A program of 1930 Boys’ Week activities sponsored by the Rotary Club of Kingsport, Tennessee, USA, left, and a 1924 poster advertises Boys’ Week in Shelbyville, Tennessee, USA.

  2. The Rotary Club of Chicago, the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, and other organizations sponsored events during Chicago’s 1929 Boys’ Week. Organizers noted that “it is necessary to build great buildings — but great characters must go along with them.”

  3. Publicity material for the 1935 Youth Week, left, highlighted the importance of leadership training, an objective of the Boys’ Work Committee while publicity materials for the 1942 national Boys and Girls Week illustrate the overlapping spheres of influence on youths, suggesting activities for theme days associated with each.

  4. A badge, left, from a 1924 Boys’ Week event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Giving young boys leadership roles, Rotarians said, encouraged participation in activities. At right: Rotary’s international presence helped spread Boys’ Week to Mérida, Mexico, and locations in more than 20 other countries.