Rotary International was founded as a men's club in 1905.   But that didn't mean women were inactive. In the early days, they provided support to their husband Rotarians. They assisted with fundraising and social activities, and helped with the various club and community projects. Some Rotary clubs in Victoria and elsewhere established ladies auxiliaries called "Rotary Anns" or "Inner Wheel" but Harbourside did not formalize their role that way.

The relationship of women to Rotary changed on June 1, 1977, when the Rotary Club of Durante, California inducted three women members into their club. RI immediately pulled the club's charter and the Rotary Club of Durante took RI to the Supreme Court of California arguing discrimination. The Club won that suit but lost on an appeal. The suit eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and on May 4, 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that RI must allow women and other minorities to be eligible to join Rotary.

That started a debate in Harbourside, which was founded in 1980.  Not all Harboursiders were in favour of having women members. Luckily, then-President Doug Potentier was the Deputy Chief of Police and was able to keep matters well in hand. Common sense prevailed and on April 5, 1989, President Doug inducted the first two women members into the Club. They were Beverly Rozee, an investment broker with Odlum Brown; and Christine Dysart, owner of Brown's the Florist.

It soon became clear that these women joined because they shared the Rotary values and wanted to be of service. Despite the debate, they were made very welcome in the Club.

Clearly some changes had to be made before women would feel comfortable and welcome enough to become members. Language was cleaned up, some jokes weren't told (at the podium at least), and social functions had to accommodate members of both genders. Change, however, came slowly and Beverly and Chris remained the only women members until 1991.

Slowly, one by one, more women joined the club. By 1994, there were six, and by 1999, there were 15. Currently roughly 30% of the membership is women, with a goal of 50% by 2021. 

Even though their numbers were small back then, the women's contributions were not. In 1993, Ardath Paxton-Mann became the first Director of the Club, in the capacity of Co-Director of International Affairs. Then in 1999, Susan Kurushima became the first woman President, followed in 2000 by Chris Dysart, and Maureen Duncan in 2005.

Women not only served on the Board, they introduced three of our five major fundraisers. In the early 1990's, Chris Dysart introduced Roses from Rotary, and in 2001, Ann Moskow and Margaret Mann introduced The Rotary Tea, which later became The Rotary Brunch. Guests at the Tea made such favourable comments about the fruit cakes that another fundraiser was started: "Christmas Cakes from Rotary". Over the years, the three fundraising events have raised over $350,000. Roses and Cakes are not only still very successful, they are very popular with the entire 'family of Harbourside' because of the wonderful fellowship among all the volunteers.

According to the History of Rotary website, "The addition of women in Rotary has represented the single greatest force in the growth of Rotary International and the fastest growing category of new members is women, especially in the western world."

Here is a link to additional information about women in Rotary International