How the Club was Formed.
In 1984, Rotary District 5030 Governor Swenson asked Lloyd Hara, then a member of the Seattle 4 Club, to form a club in the Pioneer Square-International District Area. The club would consist of business people with cultural ties or interest in matters affecting the International District or Pioneer Square, and would be characterized by a multi-ethnic flavor.
The club charter application was slightly altered from the standard Rotary charter by striking out any reference to male only membership. The application was returned unapproved because the new club had deleted the male only clause and several other minor elements to comply with the interest and realities of the new members. The club debated whether it was better to accept the traditional charter or not. Finally, it was decided to approve the standard charter language and go through the formal process to change the Rotary by-laws through normal Rotary channels.
After six months of provisional meetings, the International District Club was born in September of 1984, officially called Rotary Club of Seattle - International District. As the first club president Lloyd Hara recalls, "We ran the usual luncheon program, but had a higher degree of political and community-related issues. We also visited each other's businesses, somewhat like an open house, in order to get to know each other better."
For a new club, the group was ethnically very diverse, and generally a young club, with most members in their late 30's and early 40's. Only two members had been Rotarians previously, so a new group of people was challenged to get involved. It was also a contributing factor to the non-traditional activity, which soon followed - pursuing the effort to permit women members in Rotary.
Pioneering Women in Rotary.
The Club soon formed a Women-in-Rotary Committee, which investigated alternatives and studied procedures for amending the Rotary constitution. The Club submitted a resolution to the 1986 Rotary International Council on Legislation, proposing that women be admitted as Rotarians. This resolution was combined with other similar resolutions by other clubs, and was soundly defeated by a two-to-one margin. Since the resolution needed a two-to-one favorable vote for Rotary to admit women, Club members decided not to wait until the next Council on Legislation three years hence, but take action on their own. However, it was decided that they would not proceed unless 100% of the members agreed with the course of action.
On July 31, 1986, the club unanimously voted to admit women. Members such as Bob Hashimoto spoke against discrimination. Because it was believed that admitting only one or two women would create pressure on those individuals, the Club decided to admit several women. Ultimately 15 women were proposed and admitted in September of 1986.
The Club was aware of a California case pending in the United States Supreme Court, Board of Directors of Rotary International v. The Rotary Club of Duarte. The Rotary Club of Duarte, California had admitted women in compliance with California law against discrimination but was subsequently expelled by RI. Hence the litigation. In order to prevent being expelled by RI, the Seattle-International District Club filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Seattle seeking an injunction against Rotary International from expelling the Club. In September, 1986, the Club filed its suit, and announced its admission of fifteen women. The press release included then-President Jim Johnson's comment: "Rotary is a great organization. We are good Rotarians and we subscribe to everything Rotary stands for, except one -- that it does not allow women as members."
The Duarte case was decided on May 4, 1987. The Court held that Rotary International had to comply with California's public accommodation law against discrimination and could not expel the Duarte Club for its compliance with state law. Faced with the Duarte decision and the Club's lawsuit here in Washington State, Rotary International decided not to litigate against the Club. In 1989, the RI Council on Legislation amended the Rotary By-Laws to eliminate the prohibition on women as Rotarians.
The Club today is a diverse group of business people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, religions and sexes. Many members live and work in other parts of King County and have joined the Club because of its diversity and its commitment to equality.
For more information about the role of the Seattle-International District Rotary Club in admitting women into Rotary, watch this video created in honor of the 30th anniversary of Women in Rotary, and visit the Women in Rotary website, part of the Rotary Global History Website.
Robert Beardemphl, Club President from 1985-1986, recalled that when a female member was asked to speak to the Tacoma Rotary club, one of the older members said after her presentation, "Well, now I've seen everything, a woman Rotarian! What is next, a pregnant Rotarian?" At which point our member stepped around the podium, obviously pregnant, and said, "Now you have seen everything!" Bob has reflected that his involvement with the admittance of women into Rotary was one of the proudest achievements of his professional career.
Jim Johnson, Club President 1986-1987, had the spotlight on him as the club filed its injunction against Rotary International. While many negative responses were received, Jim also recalls receive many more supportive letters from members of Rotary worldwide.
Karilyn Van Soest, President 1988-1989 remembers her year as the first "official" female President of a Rotary Club in the world** as "unbelievable and unforgettable." Karilyn found herself breaking ground at several conferences, including the International Convention in Philadelphia in May, 1988. Visiting other clubs, the questions that came up seem amusing over 20 years later -- "What will you wear to meetings, dresses or pants?" While she faced rudeness and occasional inadvertent sexism, overall, Karilyn was thrilled with the experience.
You can learn more about the history of Women in Rotary by visiting the Rotary Global History Website.
To commemorate the 30th year anniversary our club first admitted women, Hwa-Tsun Feng has provided his personal reflections on these events in this essay, based upon talks he has given over the 28+ years.
** Dr Sylvia Whitlock was inducted in as President of the Duarte Club on June 23rd, 1987, but Rotary International’s Constitution was not updated until January of 1989 to officially permit the admission of woman into Rotary.