Until 1989, the Constitution and Bylaws of Rotary International stated that Rotary club membership was for males only. In 1978 the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, invited three women to become members. They were registered with Rotary International membership using only their first and middle initials and last names. There was no gender reporting at the time because only men could join Rotary. During a club celebration event it became evident to members of other Rotary clubs that the club had female members. The RI board withdrew the charter of that club for violation of the RI Constitution.
The club brought suit against RI claiming a violation of a state civil rights law which prevents discrimination of any form in business establishments or public accommodations. The appeals court and the California Supreme Court supported the Duarte club's 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 court indicating that Rotary clubs do have a “business purpose” and are in some ways public-type organizations. This action in 1987 allowed women to become Rotarians in any jurisdiction having similar “public accommodation” statutes.
The RI constitutional change was made at the 1989 Council on Legislation, with a vote to eliminate the “male only” provision for all of Rotary.
Increasing the number of women members remains a major challenge in Rotary. Unveiling his theme for the Rotary year 2017–18 as Rotary: Making a Difference, incoming RI President Elect Ian Riseley made a strong statement for including more women and younger members in Rotary. “When we look at the challenges which we have to address in the coming years, two of them stand out to me; one is the gender imbalance in our membership and the other is the average age of Rotarians.”
It was “20 years since our Council on Legislation voted to admit women members in our Rotary clubs. And yet the percentage of women is just a little above 20 per cent, up from 13 per cent 10 years ago.”
At our recent D3360 District Assembly the women membership status showed: For Rotary International overall the number of women members is 22% and for D3360 the women members account for 37.8% of the total members.