As we reflect on the journey of Rotary International, it is remarkable to think that just 35 years ago, representatives from across the Rotary world gathered in Singapore for a pivotal meeting at the Council on Legislation. This meeting marked a significant moment in Rotary's history, as it came on the heels of the 1987 US Supreme Court decision declaring that women could no longer be excluded from membership. The winds of change were blowing, and the Rotary landscape was about to transform.

The Council on Legislation (COL) delegates convened on January 23, 1989, and a historic decision was made. They voted to eliminate the RI Constitution requirement limiting Rotary Club membership to men. By January 26, 1989, the doors were allowed to swing open. Women would be welcomed into Rotary clubs around the world. The echo of this decision would resonate for decades, shaping the trajectory of Rotary in ways unimaginable at the time.

One individual who foresaw the importance of adapting to a changing world was Past Rotary International President Frank J. Devlyn. In addressing his fellow delegates, he emphasized the vast differences between the world of 1989 and the world of Rotary's inception in 1905. His words laid the foundation for a new era in Rotary that embraced inclusivity and recognized the need to evolve with the times.

The decision to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide was not a spontaneous event but the result of decades-long efforts by dedicated men and women from every corner of the Rotary world. Previous Council meetings had seen close votes on the matter, highlighting the ongoing struggle for change.

The response to this groundbreaking decision was nothing short of overwhelming. By June 1990, the number of female Rotarians had soared to over 20,000. Fast forward to July 2010, and women's membership worldwide reached 195,000, constituting about 16% of Rotarians. In July 2020, that number surpassed 277,000, making up approximately 23% of Rotary's global membership.

Rotary's commitment to creating an environment where everyone is included and allowed to have a sense of belonging has become a top priority. The organization recognizes that its capacity to make a lasting impact and expand its reach is magnified when diverse voices unite. Rotary celebrates and welcomes the contributions of individuals from all backgrounds, irrespective of age, ethnicity, race, color, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The journey of women in Rotary is not just about membership numbers. It is about active participation and leadership. Women have increasingly taken on roles that contribute to their communities and assumed leadership positions within Rotary. The 1989 Council on Legislation vote remains a watershed moment, symbolizing Rotary's commitment to progress and inclusivity.

As we look back at the evolution of Rotary over these 35 years, it is evident that change is not just inevitable. Change is essential. The story of women in Rotary serves as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of an organization that continues to grow and diversify. The spirit of Rotary lies not only in its rich history. The spirit exists in its ability to embrace change, guided by the belief that a Rotary Club should reflect the communities it serves. In the words of Frank Devlyn at the 1989 COL, "Rotary has to adapt itself to a changing world." Let us continue to celebrate the spirit of Rotary, where change is embraced as a catalyst for a brighter future.