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Women in Rotary – How it Happened

On March 7, 2017, the Rotary Club of White Plains celebrated women in Rotary by calling on our members who, more than 30 years before, had played key roles in opening up Rotary membership to women worldwide.

White Plains Rotary

Rich Scanlan was living in NYC in 1970. He was a young lawyer who became a founding member of the Rotary Club of Upper Manhattan (Now RC Harlem) with the express purpose of spearheading a proposal to allow women to join Rotary.

Rich prepared gender neutral changes to the Rotary Constitution and Bylaws, and this proposal was submitted to the Rotary Council on Legislation. It was roundly defeated. The proposal was submitted again and again at subsequent Councils on Legislation but never gained traction.

Rich had moved to White Plains and joined the Rotary Club of White Plains in 1973 and continued his advocacy. Rich faced huge resistance from a few Rotarians, so in 1981 he proposed a formal debate at a Club meeting. Club President Charlie Goldberger turned the tables by switching the positions of the debaters: he required the debater against women to take the PRO side and Rich to take the CON side of the argument.

It Started in 1977-78

In 1977, the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, invited three women to become members. The reaction of the Board of RI was predictable: on March 27, 1978, Duarte's charter was terminated. Duarte re-named itself the "Ex Rotary Club of Duarte" (HA!)

The Duarte club members filed suit in June, 1978, under the Civil Rights Act of the State of California (not the 1964 Civil Rights Act of Congress), claiming a violation of the state civil rights law that prevents discrimination of any form in business establishments or public accommodations.

This was not heard by the court until 1983 when Judge Max Deutz ruled against Duarte, which in 1986 appealed that decision to the California Court of Appeals and the Deutz judgment was reversed. The RI Board appealed that decision to the California Supreme Court which refused to hear the case and the RI Board then appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1986.

The case was finally heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and resulted in a unanimous decision on May 4, 1987, in favor of admitting women, with the opinion of the Court written by Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority.

R.I. immediately issued a policy statement that any Rotary club in the United States can admit qualified women into membership.

1987 and MAT Caparas

PDG Andrew Morzello was President of our club at the time (1986-87). He had been awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship when he was in college. Ambassadorial Scholarships was a program of the Rotary Foundation that was begun in 1947 and ended in 2013. From 1947 to 2013, nearly 38,000 men and women from about 100 nations studied abroad under its auspices.

With his scholarship, Andy Morzello studied in the Philippines, where he became very friendly with a Rotarian named MAT Caparas. MAT mentored young Morzello and was his inspiration for deeper involvement with Rotary. Years later, in 1987, during Andy's year as president of the White Plains club, his former advisor MAT Caparas was the president of Rotary International!

Andy immediately invited his friend MAT Caparas to visit our Club.

That June, following the International Convention in Munich, MAT Caparas came to White Plains where in the presence of 500 people who attended the meeting, he inducted Josephine Falcone as first female member of the White Plains Rotary.

Jo Falcone’s induction was the first time a President of R.I. inducted a woman.

Josephine invited other women to join RCWP and initially they formed a group unto themselves, known as "RCU" and "Cornucopia." It wasn’t long, however, before Jo became the first female president of the club and called herself the "Queen."

But WAIT...

In 1987, Rotary’s constitution hadn’t yet been changed, so the Constitutional requirement for men only as members was technically still in effect. Rotary International has a Council on Legislation which meets every three years to enact changes.

So it was not until 1989, at its first meeting after the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Council on Legislation voted to eliminate the requirement in the RI Constitution that membership in Rotary clubs be limited to men. Women were officially welcomed into Rotary clubs around the world.

Worldwide total membership has remained relatively constant for the past 20 years, but the proportion of women members has increased steadily:
June 2017265,000

As we all know, women really put their shoulders to the wheel and have sparked our clubs in a magical manner. Now you know the rest of the story.

 Andrew M. Morzello on 3/7/2017

3/7/2017 - Josephine Falcone, first woman in RCWP and first woman ever inducted by a President of Rotary International (1987)

Mateo Armando Tengco Caparas, better known as "MAT"

In Memoriam: M.A.T. Caparas 1923-2020

President Rotary International 1986-87

Memories from a friend by Andrew L. Morzello
Regretfully on July 15, 2020, Past Rotary International President M.A.T. Caparas, my very good friend for 57 years, passed away at the age of 97 after 61 years of exceptionally dedicated Rotary service.

I first came to know MAT and Nita, his lovely and caring wife, when I was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar studying and teaching at the University of The Philippines in 1963-1964. MAT and Nita became more than just mentors to me. He was a caring and fabulous friend then and now, even though in 1963 he was a very busy and active District Governor-Elect who keenly watched out for me and helped me enjoy my days in the Philippines.

I was welcome in his home anytime, especially during the holidays sharing his family life with Nita and their great kids, Jorge, Matt and Pilar. When I didn’t feel well, he made sure that I received excellent health care. On occasion when I needed transportation from the University to the Northern provinces of Luzon where I volunteered in-service training to Filipino teachers, MAT always provided it. He actively supported me within Filipino Rotary so much so that I was honored to be the principal speaker at the annual gathering of all Filipino Rotary Districts.

As the years passed, our friendship grew. Neither of us would have predicted that one day he would the first-ever and only Filipino President of RI and I would be White Plains Rotary President serving simultaneously in the 1986-1987 year. We were all very inspired to fulfill his Rotary vision and theme - Rotary Brings Hope. He also was ever present in assisting me during my own year as our District’s Governor in 1994-1995.

As RI President, MAT undertook three very momentous and historic achievements.
• First, he introduced The Rotary Community Corps, patterned after the US Peace Corps, to provide for Rotary volunteers to serve in their communities. The RI Board of Directors adopted the program in 1988.
• Second, during his Presidency, Rotary started the campaign to be known as Polio Plus which raised $120 million to eradicate polio by 2005. The campaign generated more than $240 million in two years. The National Immunization Days, where Rotarians would volunteer to give the Polio oral vaccination to children, was started not only in the Philippines but also in Turkey, Peru and India during his term. With a Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation grant of $200 million, the polio virus is practically eradicated worldwide.
• Third, a most significant and very impactful change for Rotary was introduced during his Presidency: the admission of women into Rotary. In June of 1987, MAT and the RI Board of Directors proposed a resolution to the Rotary Convention in Munich for the admission of women into Rotary.

Upon the conclusion of the RI Munich Convention, MAT and Nita headed for White Plains for some needed rest (which they really didn’t get). They were guests in my home but were very politely asked by our District Governor Glen Nygreen and Past District Governor Jack Ruger if MAT would speak to our Rotary Clubs. Knowing that they wanted rest and relaxation, I was able to convince our Governors that the Rotarians of the District be invited to our club meeting in White Plains. MAT agreed and also consented to my request to induct our new women candidates into the White Plains Rotary Club.

So, MAT gladly inducted Josephine Falcone, Norma Mack and Myrna Popper as the first women Rotarians in the Rotary Club of White Plains. This was a truly historic event—the very first time a Rotary International President inducted women into Rotary. It all happened here in White Plains. We are very thankful and honored that MAT helped us be a significant part of admitting women into Rotary.

Another accomplishment that should be mentioned. For many years, there was an on-going disagreement between RI and the Rotary Club of New York City. For many years, no RI President had spoken at the NY Rotary Club. MAT and I chatted about it. He wanted to know if I could convince the NY Club to receive him. I did so, and NY Rotary accepted. MAT delivered a very moving address to the NY Rotary Club. The dispute ended.

MAT made a significant positive impact upon Rotary and my life. His life has been a service-giving one. We in Rotary have been privileged to have had him as our President. I have been blessed by his friendship.

Until we meet again, MAT!
Andrew L. Morzello


The Rotary Club of White Plains is Club 5043, District 7230, Zone 32, Region USCB, Federal tax ID 13-6111471. The "Foundation of the Rotary Club of White Plains" is tax exempt, New York State #219346, tax ID 13-6165380.

The Rotary Club of White Plains was chartered October 1, 1919, charter number 540. Mailing address: P.O. Box 1712, White Plains NY 10602. Website created August 2001.

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