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The History of Women in Rotary

Rotary provides women with the opportunity to do extraordinary things. Working together with like-minded women and men, they expand and build on existing strengths with the benefits of diversity to improve the lives of individuals and communities.

Women have always influenced Rotary, right from the contribution of Jean Thompson, Rotary's Founder Paul Harris's wife, who is regarded as "the power behind the Rotary 'throne'".

The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary. ​The vote followed the decades-long efforts of men and women from all over the Rotary world to allow 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 July 2016, the number of women worldwide had surpassed 250,000.

A top priority for Rotary is growing and diversifying our membership to make sure we reflect the communities we serve. We know that our capacity to increase our impact and expand our reach is larger when more people unite with us, which is why we value diversity, equity and inclusion. Rotary celebrates and welcomes the contributions of people of all backgrounds, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, color, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The work that Rotary women do publicly and behind the scenes is amazing. Women are both the "movers and shakers" in our clubs but are also very well-represented in leadership positions within clubs, districts, and beyond.



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