Celebrating 30 Years of Women in Rotary

Reprinted with permission of the Delaware County’s Daily Newspaper

By Joseph Batory, Times Guest Columnist

April 18, 2017

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 soon terminated by Rotary International (March, 1978).

It then became a battle 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 unanimously ruled that Rotary clubs could not exclude women. Ironically, two justices had to recuse themselves from the case and that is what the vote was 7-0 instead of 9-0.  That’s because Justice Harry A. Blackmun was a member of Rotary and Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband was a Rotary member.

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 2017-2018 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+ clubs in Greater Philadelphia including those Rotary clubs in Delaware County). And Risely noted that 103 of the 539 incoming governors internationally 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. For the 2017-2018 year, she will become the fourth female to be the governor of our area’s Rotary District 7450. The other Rotary female leaders from our area have been Bonnie Korengel (Longwood Rotary 2011-2012), Joan Batory (Philadelphia Rotary, 2010-2011) 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 highly 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 organizations 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 immunize more than two billion children with polio vaccine in 122 countries. The disease is now 99 percent 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.


Joseph Batory is the author of three books and has been widely published on politics and education.  Joe is currently is a member of the Rotary Club of Philadelphia.



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