Rotary Online Makeup Program

Meeting Date: 19 October 2012

Prepared By: Sherrie Wight &
                        Wendy Campanella


Ladies of Rotary

Until May of 1987 when the Supreme Court of the United States upheld lower court rulings, Rotary International was technically an all male organization. Technically being the operative word because as you all know behind every great man one finds a truly magnificent woman, and god help the man who argues that point.

Of course today women are active and vital members of Rotary in their own right. But until that came to pass, the members’ wives worked right along side them on projects and were a driving force and equal partners with their husbands in financial support of Rotary. They also assisted them in active roles of leadership and community service. Those wives were, and in many places today still are, referred to affectionately as “Rotary Anns”.

The name is not meant in any way to be derogatory and in fact is a title of great respect such as “this is my Rotary Ann Lynn”. It originated in 1914 when a group of west coast Rotarians chartered a train to take them to the convention in Houston. Though not unheard of, it was not customary for ladies to join their husbands at the conventions in those days. But as luck would have it, one dedicated wife did join her husband on this trip – the wife of the club president of San Francisco Henry Brunier. Her name was Ann Brunier. Since Rotarians make a point of calling each other by their first names without the baggage of titles, sweet and charming Mrs. Brunier quickly became Ann and almost as quickly became “our Rotary Ann” as she endeared herself to the Rotarians on the train.
As you can imagine, in 1914 chartering a train was quite an event and it was highly publicized in Houston. Thus when they arrived, there was a large contingency of Rotarians on hand to greet them. Some of the train passengers had passed the time on the trip composing a song about their Rotary Ann and upon disembarking they lifted her into the air and began singing their ditty. Among the reception group was a Philadelphia Rotarian by the name of Guy Gundaker whose wife had also joined him, and coincidentally was also named Ann. When her name was discovered, she too was hoisted onto their shoulders and paraded through the station while they sang. Thus, the name Rotary Ann was born and endures today as a term of endearment for all those ladies behind the great men of Rotary. Both Guy and Henry went on to serve as Presidents of Rotary International with the total support of their two Rotary Anns. But not all women even in those very early days were content to be cast in a solely supportive role. Read on!
There is no doubt that one of the greatest inventions of man to ever grace the earth is the wheel. Its usefulness is unparalleled in the annals of history. And at the heart of every useful wheel is the hub – aka the Inner Wheel. The Rotary wheel is no different. Seeing the role women play in Rotary today it is hard to believe that not so very long ago, women were not permitted to join Rotary. Silly boys – what were they thinking?

The ladies knew a good thing when they saw it, but in the 1920’s the idea of infiltrating a mans’ club was – well it wasn’t a very good idea for the times. Still, once a fire is lit in the soul, it’s mighty hard to extinguish and those oh so rebellious gals of long ago had a raging inferno going. As early as 1918, the question of Ladies Rotary Clubs or auxiliaries was batted about, but the Rotary Board wasn’t interested. In 1920, the Toronto Club formed a Layette Committee for the wives. Then in 1924, Margarette Golding, a nurse and business woman who happened to be the wife of a Rotarian in Manchester, England formed a group consisting of the wives and widows of Rotarians. They called themselves the Inner Wheel. The name was chosen specifically to respect the wishes of Rotary by not incorporating the word into their name, while still maintaining their connection with their men folk by acknowledging the well known symbol of the all male club. Not long after that, the ladies adopted their own symbol – the Rotary wheel with another smaller wheel at the center of it – thus the Inner Wheel. By 1934 and as late as 1950 the Rotary Board officially went on record denouncing ladies auxiliary clubs to Rotary and refused to acknowledge their legitimacy. Yeah, like that would stop a bunch of headstrong women! Seriously, what were they thinking?! The Inner Wheel grew and in 1967 became the International Inner Wheel. Today it is the largest voluntary women’s organization in the world, with nearly 100,000 members in 103 countries and geographical areas and at least five continents.

Structured very much like its brother club, Rotary International, the International Inner Wheel’s membership is open to wives, widows, mothers, daughters, step-daughters, daughter-in-laws, and sisters of Rotarians as well as those of members of the Inner Wheel and Rotoract. Though one of the objectives is the promotion of friendship, make no mistake – this is not just a social sorority. The Inner Wheel holds Non Governmental Organization status in the United Nations and has representatives in all three UN centers. The other two objectives of the Inner Wheel are to encourage the ideals of personal service and foster international understanding. Though they complement, support, and work closely with Rotary Clubs, they also hold independent fund raising events and support charitable organizations of their own choosing. The theme for 2012/13 is “Be a Friend” and it was in this light that they embraced the International Social Project at the 2012 convention: Giving Children a Better Life. Like Rotarians, they are changing, strengthening, improving, and revitalizing the world one little life at a time. Rotary of course saw the light, welcomed the Inner Wheel, and now has many female members, but the women of the Inner Wheel do not seek Rotarian status. They are proud and happy to work their own wonderful and special brand of magic on the world from their very own niche that they carved out all by themselves and that is where you will find them – at the hub of it all.

Let's close by enjoying this song and video created by Helen Austin celebrating the 25th anniversary of women officially being part of Rotary, while recognizing that they've really been a part since the beginning.

Website Sponsors