What Paul Harris Said…and its Meanings to Rotary


“It is my belief that the currents of Rotary have never been more deeply agitated than during the year 1923 and

I’m certain that we have never made greater progress.” Paul Harris- The Rotarian Magazine - February, 1924.


From Paul Harris’s standpoint, he had witnessed the birth of Rotary in 1905 as an opportunity to relive some of his rapscallion boyhood days and perhaps do some business with friends. Later, a long and hard struggle ensued when he asked Rotarians to forgo this original premise, convincing them the path to happiness came from freely giving back some of their success to the communities that had generated it. This “service” concept was not readily accepted and had been the source of discord for many years.


In 1923, roughly 19 years later, his creation developed a new set of guidelines that promised hope for the future. It defined itself in terms of noble ambitions and restated goals. Rotary placed service at the center of its existence.  Yet this change did not transpire without controversy.


The final transformation occurred at the June, 1923 International Convention held in St. Louis. There the issue of whether Rotary was to be run from the top-down or the bottom-up came to a head. Rotary International submitted a Resolution that every club in the association become involved with a project they were promoting. This caused a backlash of dissent from clubs who felt it was their right to remain independent and chose their own course of actions.  Both sides were ready for a fight.


Leading the opposition to Rotary International’s Resolution 8 was the Chicago Club, who submitted Resolution 29. After a lively debate, the two groups compromised by passing Resolution 34 which stated “Each individual Rotary Club has absolute autonomy in the selection of its objective activities. Rotary International may offer helpful suggestions to the clubs for the standardization of such objective activities…but there shall be no compulsion on the clubs nor shall any objective activities of any club be proscribed.”


The Resolution continued saying, “The development of general community service, in which Rotarians as individuals, exemplify good citizenship, and becoming actively identified with civic, charitable or philanthropic and commercial organizations of the community, is the goal of this section of the program.”


This meant all clubs and Rotarians were free to determine what projects or in what manner their involvement with regards to service would take. Rotary International could not mandate programs, projects or participation by the clubs, without their approval.


To help clubs understand what their new responsibilities were, the delegates created a set of principles to aid the clubs in their service endeavors.  Among them was a policy that stated, “A Rotary club in selecting an activity should seek neither publicity nor credit for itself but only the opportunity to serve.”


For several decades this was the policy for Rotarian service.


Today we might argue this antiquated opinion should be revised as the countless acts of humanitarian good should be recognized as part of Rotary’s legacy to the world.


Fred Carvin, PDG

Author “Paul Harris and the Birth of Rotary”

Unpublished Copyright© Fred A. Carvin March, 2014

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