It was an “earth-shaking” moment in the Rotary world. In 1978, the Rotary Club of Duarte (California) dared to admit women as members in violation of the Rotary International Constitution. As a result, the Rotary Club of Duarte was almost immediately terminated by Rotary International (March, 1978).
It then took a while for gender-based equality to prevail. The California courts went back and forth for several years regarding a lawsuit by the Rotary Club of Duarte against Rotary International. And finally, the United States Supreme Court in 1987 ruled that Rotary clubs could not exclude women.
Things happened fast after that. By 1990, there were more than 20,000 female Rotary members. And currently there are more than 200,000 women Rotary members internationally.
“We really waited far too long to wait to achieve a Rotary that reflects the world in which we live,” said Rotary International’s incoming 2017-18 president Iain Risely from Australia.
There are 539 Rotary Districts in 200 countries that oversee the 34,000 local Rotary clubs, including Rotary District 7450 (the 50-plus clubs in Greater Philadelphia including those Rotary clubs in Delaware County). And Risely noted that 103 of the 539 incoming governors for 2017-2018 are “women leaders who will help Rotary connect with, and represent, and better serve, all of the members of all our communities.”
One of those new Rotary women leaders is Dawn deFuria from the Greater West Chester Sunrise Club. She will become the fourth female to be the governor of our area’s Rotary District 7450. The others have been Bonnie Korengel (Longwood Rotary 2011-12), Joan Batory (Philadelphia Rotary, 2010-11) and Sandra Costanzo (Langhorne Rotary, 1999-2000).
Meanwhile, there are several female Rotarians who have reached the highest levels of Rotary International as officers. So how long before we see a woman president of Rotary International?
“I believe we’ll see a female Rotary International president within the next five years,” said Jennifer Jones, one of the four Rotary International current directors. “And this will happen because that woman is qualified and not because she is a woman. We now have a critical mass of women in Rotary who have served or currently serving with distinction as directors and one of them is going to achieve that post!”
Paul Harris, who founded Rotary way back in 1905, offered these prophetic words. “This is a changing world; we must be prepared to change with it. The story of Rotary will have to be written again and again!”
It took a while to write this change and it wasn’t easy… but today Rotarians around the world are celebrating 30 years of “Women in Rotary.”
Rotary is currently one of the top humanitarian organisations in the world. Its more than one million members volunteer their expertise, compassion and power to improve communities at home and abroad in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.
Rotary members have contributed more than $1.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to help immunise more than two billion children with polio vaccine in 122 countries. The disease is now 99 per cent eliminated.
Maternal and child health, clean water and sanitation, disease prevention and treatment and conflict resolution and peace building are Rotary’s other top areas of focus.