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Kiwanis International Ends Ban On Women Members

July 7, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Kiwanis International, a service organization with clubs all over the world, ended a 72-year men-only tradition in a matter of minutes Tuesday with an overwhelming vote to let its 8,200 clubs admit women.

″I’m delighted and relieved,″ incoming president Tony Kaiser said after the vote. ″It’s time to put this controversy behind us and get on with the real business of the service club movement.″

Well over two-thirds of the 5,600-plus delegates stood up when asked if they favored ending the ban on women members, and erupted into cheers as Kiwanis International president Frank DiNoto announced the result.

″It was overwhelming,″ DiNoto said later. ″It did surprise me. We had anticipated (having to take) a ballot vote on it.″

The Supreme Court ruled May 4 in a California case that states may force service organizations such as Rotary International to accept women as members. Three years ago the court made a similar ruling in a Minnesota case involving the Jaycees.

The Jaycees began admitting women in 1984 and Lions International voted last week to allow women to join.

Last year at the Kiwanis convention in Houston, 47 percent of the delegates voted to remove the requirement that members be men - up from 23 percent the year before in Toronto.

DiNoto said the court rulings had some impact on the massive majority that supported the change this year, but were not the decisive factor. ″There were more and more clubs that were admitting women to Kiwanis clubs anyway. It swelled from our membership,″ he said.

Kiwanis membership is by invitation only and will continue to be so for men and women. Forty U.S. clubs in 16 states already had admitted women members in violation of the Kiwanis constitution and by-laws.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Natinal Organization for Women, said the Kiwanis decision ″sounds the death-knell for male-only economic organizations.″

She said the integration of women into ″dinosaurs such as the Cosmos Club (in Washington) and the Bohemian Club (in San Francisco) and indeed the Congress... is just a matter of time and we intend to speed up the time line.″

Kaiser predicted the option would catch on slowly with Kiwanis members.

″I think it’ll be gradual,″ he said. ″Many of our clubs and members are just so... comfortable with the male membership that it will take them a little while to adjust their thinking.″

The amendment to admit women was sponsored by clubs from Norway, Canada, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Alabama, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Minnesota.

″You and I are mapping our future. No one else is doing it for us,″ said Rex Derr of Olympia, Wash., one of the sponsoring clubs, in offering the amendment.

He said the change would ″open doors for clubs who choose different membership initiatives and guarantees continuity to clubs proud of where they now stand.″

No one mounted an argument against the new rule, which was endorsed by the Kiwanis board of trustees and board of governors. But before it was adopted, delegates wrangled on and off for more than an hour over whether it should apply worldwide or only to the 6,900 U.S. clubs.

″To vote a uniform policy based on American law woud be to split Kiwanis,″ argued Steve Katz of Monticello, N.Y.

But others countered that all clubs should abide by the same rules and said the rule change had support in Scandinavia, New Zealand, Central America and elsewhere. The vote by paper ballot was 2,855 to 2,406 to permit women members internationally.

Kiwanis is a community service organization with 315,000 members. Its clubs raised $73.5 million for service projects and donated over 22 million volunteer hours of community service last year. The group aids underprivileged children and has been active in the anti-drug abuse campaign led by first lady Nancy Reagan.

Kiwanis is an Indian word that means ″We have a good time - we make noise.″

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