Editor’s note: the following is an edited excerpt from “Rotary News” in a May 7th article. I have long known of the struggle of the Duarte Club, however, I had no idea the issue dated as far back as 1950. 

Grafton Rotary Club (Australia, District 9640) member Brenda Thompson, gave a brief history of the long process that took place before women were allowed to join Rotary Clubs.

According to Thompson, it was in 1950 that the first step was taken by a Rotary Club in India, who made a proposal that the word “male” be deleted from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution.

The Council on Legislation for the Rotary International (RI) Convention voted for the proposal to be withdrawn, this would also be the outcome of the next two proposals, made in 1964, to allow women into the clubs.

By 1972, more women began reaching high positions in their professions, and more clubs began lobbying for female members. It was in this same year that a United States Rotary Club proposed admitting women into Rotary at the Council on Legislation.

In 1977, despite three more proposals being made, women were still not permitted to be members. The Rotary Club of Duarte, California chose to admit women as members in violation of the RI Constitution and Standard Rotary Constitution. Because of the violation, the club was terminated in March 1978.

Between 1980-1986, more and more clubs from all over the world began pushing to allow females to join their clubs, and the Duarte Club filed a lawsuit against Rotary International. It was RI who won the case in a lower case decision.

In 1986, a breakthrough finally came for women wanting to join Rotary, when the California Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision.

The California Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and the appeal was moved to the United States Supreme Court, where the Duarte club was reinstated.

37 years after the first proposal to allow female members into Rotary, on May 4, 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled that Rotary Clubs could no longer exclude women from membership on the basis of gender.

That same year the Rotary Club of Duarte elected the first female club president.

With women being welcomed into Rotary Clubs around the world, by 1990 there were approximately 20,200 female Rotarians, worldwide.

“By 1995, there were eight female Rotary District Governors, and by 2005, a female had been appointed as a trustee of The Rotary Foundation,” shared Thompson.

Today, there are well over 200,000 female Rotarians, working alongside their male clubmates, to serve their community.

“We’ve come a long way, as women in Rotary. It may not have been done as quickly as I would have liked, but I am very thankful that the decision was made to allow women to join,” expressed Thompson.

(Photo courtesy of Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise)