Posted by Alana Hirtle on Mar 29, 2019
The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.
 “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,” said Frank J. Devlyn, who would go on to become RI president in 2000-01. The vote followed the decades-long efforts of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow the admission of women into Rotary clubs, and several close votes at previous Council meetings.
The response to the decision was overwhelming: By June 1990, the number of female Rotarians had skyrocketed to over 20,000. By July 2016, the number of women worldwide had surpassed 250,000. 
Women immediately embraced the leadership opportunities provided by their clubs and have been making an impact in communities around the world. Michelle Candland, a member of the Rotary Club of San Diego, California, USA, for instance, has been instrumental in moving a school for homeless students to a new facility. “If we as Rotarians lay the groundwork for other community members to build on, we can then accomplish any goal we set out to,” she says. 
A short timeline of the history of women in Rotary:
On 4 May, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Rotary clubs may not exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. Rotary issues 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.
Sylvia Whitlock, of the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, becomes the first female Rotary club president.
In November, the RI Board of Directors issues a policy statement recognizing the right of Rotary clubs in Canada to admit female members based on a Canadian law similar to that upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At its first meeting after the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Council on Legislation votes to eliminate the requirement in the RI Constitution that membership in Rotary clubs be limited to men. Women are welcomed into Rotary clubs around the world.
Reprinted from the Rotary International website. For the full timeline of the History of Women in Rotary, click here.
Editor’s note: As we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on May 4, and the 30th anniversary of women in Rotary this year, why not share some of the accomplishments of your female members? Send them to me at by April 20 and we’ll include a selection in our May newsletter.