On May 4, 1987, the U.S Supreme Court gave a unanimous ruling which barred Rotary clubs from discriminating against women on the basis of gender.
In 1990, Belmont Rotary inducted Mary Lou South as its first female member and in 1994 elected its first woman president.



Women in Rotary

It is easy (and incorrect) to think of Rotary as an 'Old Men's Club' - though for much of our history, it was.
However, looking around at club now, it is hard to remember that there was a time when women were not allowed to join.  
The 1989 Rotary International Council on Legislation voted to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide.  This remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.
Speaking on the decision to admit women, future Rotary International President Frank J. Devlyn stated, "My fellow delegates, I would like to remind you that the world of 1989 is very different to the world of 1905. I sincerely believe that Rotary has to adapt itself to a changing world."

The Fight

In June 1977, the eight members of the Rotary Club of Duarte admitted two women, Mary Elliott and Donna Bogart, shortly followed by a third, Rosemary Freitag.
The Board of RI terminated the club. Duarte re-named itself the “Ex Rotary Club of Duarte.” In June, 1978, the club filed a suit in the California Superior Court against the RI Board decision. The RI Board appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1986.
The journey was neither easy nor direct.  In a California lawsuit that lasted from 1983 to 1986, the California courts first upheld and then overturned provisions on gender-based qualification for membership in California Rotary Clubs.  In 1987 the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On 4 May 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Rotary clubs may not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Rotary issued a policy statement that any Rotary club in the United States can admit qualified women into membership. 

The Rotary Club of Marin Sunrise, California (formerly Larkspur Landing), is chartered on 28 May. It becomes the first club after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to have women as charter members.

On May 4, 1987, the US Supreme Court voted a 7-0 unanimous ruling that Duarte could not discriminate against members because of gender. Duarte had the final say in June, 1987, when Dr Sylvia Whitlock was inducted by DGE Dr Kim K Siu as the first woman Club President in the history of Rotary.

In 1989, at its first meeting after the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Council on Legislation eliminated the requirement in the RI Constitution that membership in Rotary clubs be limited to men. Women are welcomed into Rotary clubs around the world.  

Even then, the vote was not unanimous.  At the 1989 meeting, 328 delegates or 73.7%, voted in favor of deleting the word “male” from the constitutional documents.

Women in Belmont Rotary

I was recently asked to provide the District Governor some information on women in Belmont Rotary.  

According to our current club demographic information, women make up 32% of Belmont-Redwood Shores Rotary Club.

As with all things both Rotary and Historical, I reached out to Past District Governor and Belmont-Redwood Shores Rotarian, Fred West to find out more about how women were folded into the fabric of the club.

According to Fred, Belmont inducted its first female Rotarian, Mary Lou South, in 1990.  Four years later, for Rotary year 1994-1995, Belmont Rotary elected Marta Illescas as its first female President.

Looking back now, it's hard to imagine a time when women were not permitted the same opportunity as men to perform worthwhile service.

If you know of any additional details on the inclusion of women into our club, please get them to me.  I'd love to publish names and years so that this important era in our club's history doesn't get lost.

Note: Adapted and Expanded upon from an article "History of Women in Rotary" on the Rotary International Website.