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 RotaryRich 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 1977-78In 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 CaparasAndrew Morzello was President of our club at the time (1986-87). He had been awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial schcolarship 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 his advisor was MAT Caparas. Years later, in 1987, while Andy served as president of the White Plains club, his former advisor MAT Caparas served as the president of Rotary International!
Andy 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...Rotary’s constitution hadn’t yet been changed, so the Constitutional requirement for men only as members was techcnically still in effect. The Council on Legislation meets every 3 years.
In 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:
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.
Mateo Armando Tengco Caparas, better known as MAT