Posted on Jul 30, 2017
While the first Rotary club was established in February 1905, it took 82 years for the California Supreme Court to rule that disallowing women to join was gender discrimination and unconstitutional, which paved the way for global female Rotarians.
The road to this moment in history was not a friendly one. It started when Rotary Club of Duarte in Las Lomas, California inducted two female members, which was when Rotary International decided to terminate the club's RI membership status for violating the Rotary constitution. The club filed suit against RI for violating the California Unruh Act, which bans business establishments from discriminating based many factors, including gender. The state actually ruled in favor of RI because it didn't see Rotary clubs as businesses. However, when an appeal was filed, the previous ruling was reversed after the Court of Appeal identified several "businesslike attributes" of RI, including its complex structure, large staff, budget, and extensive publishing activities. As a result, the court ordered the reinstatement of the club and restricted RI from enforcing its gender-specific membership requirements.
This was in 1987. That same year, Rotary Club of Duarte elected Sylvia Whitlock to become the first ever female club President, and the world followed suit. As a Rotarian and a woman, I'd like to personally thank them for making my membership possible.
Michela Swarthout, D5400 Bulletin Lady