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Rotary History

Rotary becomes intercontinental

On 1 August 1912, the Rotary Club of London, Greater London, England, became the first Rotary club in Europe. Although Rotary had already become international in April of that year with the chartering of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the club in the United Kingdom earned Rotary the distinction of being an intercontinental organization.

After the London members organized the club, it took a year to receive its charter. Correspondence between General Secretary Chesley R. Perry and charter member Arthur P. Bigelow reveals some of the club members’ questions about joining and paying dues to what was then the National Association of Rotary Clubs, made up of only U.S. clubs.

Perry encouraged them to “forget that the word ‘national’ is in the name,” noting that if Winnipeg, London, and others were to join, the association would “simply have to change its name to the Inter-National Association.”

Beyond London

The London club, along with four U.S. clubs chartered on the same day, increased the worldwide club total to 50. Within a short time, Rotary grew to have eight clubs in England, Ireland (including what is now Northern Ireland), and Scotland. The seven clubs after London and their RI charter dates were:

  • Glasgow, Strathclyde, Scotland: 1 April 1913
  • Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland: 1 May 1913
  • Dublin, Dublin, Ireland: 1 May 1913
  • Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland: 1 May 1913
  • Manchester, Greater Manchester, England: 1 May 1913
  • City of Liverpool, Merseyside, England: 1 August 1913
  • Birmingham, West Midlands, England: 1 April 1914

Rotary’s presence didn’t extend to mainland Europe until the Rotary Club of Madrid, Spain, received its charter in January 1921.

A unique approach

R.W. Pentland, of the Edinburgh club, used his appointment to the 1913-14 Rotary Board of Directors as an opportunity to improve connections among clubs. He gathered club officers in Liverpool in October 1913, seeking to enhance camaraderie and unity and to standardize practices among the Rotary clubs in the United Kingdom. The following May, club representatives met in London and created the British Association of Rotary Clubs (BARC).

Pentland reported on the new association to 1913-14 Rotary President Russell F. Greiner, who supported its creation. At the 1914 Rotary Convention, delegates approved a resolution to recognize the British association and its efforts to promote Rotary interests.

Clubs could become members of both BARC and the International Association of Rotary Clubs (now Rotary International) through two separate processes, and BARC clubs were actively encouraged to apply for affiliation with the International Association, but that wasn’t required for several years.

After more than a year of discussions between the two associations, delegates at the 1922 Rotary Convention in Los Angeles, California, USA, changed the RI Constitution to make provisions for national or territorial units that would operate as administrative units of Rotary International. In particular, they would be empowered to approve applications and issue charter certificates for clubs in the designated territory.

The clubs of Great Britain and Ireland, through the BARC, applied for and received such status. After only five years, delegates again changed the constitution to stop creating territorial units but allowed existing units to remain. Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) is the only territorial unit that remains in Rotary today.

  1. Members of the Rotary Club of London, Greater London, England — with family, friends, and entertainer Harry Lauder of the Rotary Club of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Scotland (front row, second from right) — gathered in London before traveling to the 1922 Rotary International Convention in Los Angeles, California, USA.

  2. 1920-21 Rotary President Estes Snedecor (center) and others pose with a Rotary Club of Edinburgh, Scotland, banner at the 1921 Rotary Convention in that city, the first to be held outside of the United States.

  3. Members, spouses, and friends of the Rotary Club of Margate, Kent, England, at the dedication of an X-ray annex that they helped fund for a local hospital in 1923.

  4. RI General Secretary Chesley R. Perry (center) visits the Rotary Club of London, Greater London, England, in 1925.

  5. Paul Harris (front row, second from right) with members of the Rotary Club of London, Greater London, England, and guests during a celebration of the club’s anniversary in August 1932.

  6. Rotary founder Paul Harris with Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland staff members.