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Rotary History

The start of Rotary in South America

Rotary extended its reach to South America when the Rotary Club of Montevideo, Uruguay, was chartered on 1 February 1919. 

Rotarians had been interested in expanding to South America as early as 1916, and had focused on Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. But the first club was instead chartered in Uruguay, thanks to the efforts of Herbert P. Coates.

Coates, a native of England, had lived in South America for many years.

He became acquainted with Rotary while on a business trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, in 1916. He found that many businessmen in the city were busy with the Rotary Convention taking place there.

Intrigued, he arranged to visit Rotary headquarters and asked about starting a club in Uruguay.

Coates returned to Montevideo with approval to start a club, and his work led to an organizational meeting in July 1918. That December, he and 21 other charter members submitted the club’s formal application to Rotary. 

Coates later helped start a club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and served as a special commissioner for expanding Rotary in South America.

Rotary founder Paul Harris described Coates as instrumental in spreading Rotary to and throughout the continent. Rotarians there agreed and referred to Coates, whom they called Don Heriberto, as the “Father of Rotary in South America.” 

View Slideshow

Herbert P. Coates, far left, of Montevideo, Uruguay, 1942-43 Rotary International President Fernando Carbajal, far right, of Lima, Peru, and other attendees at the 1926 Rotary International Convention in Denver, Colorado, USA.

  1. South America has been home to six presidents of Rotary International. In this photo, 1953-54 RI President Joaquin Serratosa Cibils of Montevideo, Uruguay (center), reads The Rotarian during a radio broadcast on WTOP in Washington, D.C. 1954.

  2. Banner from the Rotary Club of Montevideo, Uruguay.

  3. Paul Harris and his wife, Jean, visited Rotary clubs throughout South America from January to April of 1936. They received souvenirs including this paperweight from Antofagasta, Chile.

  4. Paul and Jean Harris (third and fourth from left) in the Paul Harris Room at the Rotary Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 1936. 

  5. Rotarians visit the ruins of Chan Chan, a pre-Colombian city near Trujillo, during the 1930 District 71 conference in Peru.

  6. Attendees at the first Brazilian Rotary conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 1927.

  7. Members of the Rotary Club of Chivilcoy, Argentina, donate an iron lung, used to treat polio patients who can’t breathe on their own, to a local hospital. Circa 1956.

  8. Attendees at the 1948 Rotary International Convention in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The convention has been held in South America three other times: in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1981; in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2000; and in São Paulo, Brazil, in 2015.