History of Rotary International

Rotary was founded more than a hundred years ago in Chicago, on February 23, 1905, by Paul Harris.

Paul Harris was born in Racine, WI and moved at the age of 3 to Wallingford, VT.  He was rambunctious and attended many schools enroute to a law degree from the University of Iowa in 1891.  He was fascinated with Chicago and, after traveling extensively, established a law practice there in 1896, at the age of 27.

One day, 3 years later, he met a fellow attorney who invited him to dinner, and after dinner walked together through the neighborhood, meeting and talking with local businessmen.  Paul was reminded of the VT neighborhood he grew up in, particularly the friendly neighbors.  He suggested to his friend about starting a club of businessmen, each from a different profession, who would gather for friendship and mutual cooperation.

Over the next 5 years, these meetings began to take shape.  The club soon had 15 members and they decided on certain traditions such as addressing fellow members by first name (which was not done at the time), requiring new members to be recommended by existing members, and paying fines for misdeeds.

 The name Rotary Club was adopted from the practice of rotating the meetings among member’s offices.  The first president was Silvester Schiele.

In 1908, Rotary member Manual Munoz took a trip to San Francisco and shortly thereafter the San Francisco club was formed.  In 1909, New York became the third Rotary Club.  By now, the focus of Rotary turned toward doing good deeds in the community.

In 1911, the National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed and Paul Harris became its first president.  The magazine “The Rotarian” was launched in 1911.  By 1921, Rotary was established on 6 continents and the name “Rotary International” was adopted a year later.

In 1932, Rotarian Herbert Taylor established the “Four-Way Test”:  a code of ethics that was formally adopted 11 years later.

In 1989, Rotary formally voted to admit women to membership.  Today, more than 150,000 women are members of Rotary Clubs worldwide. 

Rotary now includes over 1.2 million members and over 32,000 clubs in over 200 countries.  Rotary clubs operate at the local level and at the District, Area and International level.  Rotary’s motto is “Service above Self” and not only do Rotarians serve their communities; they serve the world at large in the areas of eradication of polio, illiteracy, world hunger, disease, children at risk, and environmental degradation.

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