Recently we welcomed two new women members to the Rappahannock Rotary Club.  It has only been a little over twenty years since women were first welcomed into Rotary.  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 for 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 2010, the number of women approached 200,000.

Starting as early as 1950, clubs from around the world began petitioning the Council on Legislation to recognize women beginning with something as simple as removing the word "male" from the standard rotary club constitution.  More and more petitions to allow women to participate as active Rotarians were submitted, but were eventually withdrawn or denied.

It wasn't until 1978, when Rotary International withdrew the charter of the Rotary Club of Duarte, California following its invitation to three women to become members of their club, that things began to roll.  The Duarte club brought suit against RI, claiming a violation of California's civil rights law which prevents discrimination of any form in business establishments or public accommodations.  The appeal court and the California Supreme Court supported the Duarte position that Rotary could not remove the club's charter merely for inducting women into the club.  The United States Supreme Court upheld the California courts saying that Rotary clubs do have a "business purpose" and are in some ways public organizations.  This action therefore allowed women to become Rotarians in any jurisdiction having similar "public accommodation" statutes.

The Rotary International constitution was subsequently changed at the 1989 Council on Legislation with a vote to eliminate the "male only" provision for all of Rotary.  Read more about women in Rotary here.