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The Beginnings of Service Club Organizations

The first and foremost reason of the origin of service clubs was the United States business expansion in the first quarter of the XX century. At the time businessmen had an urge to make focused social connections with other entrepreneurs, that they had not found in any existing organization.

The founders of the Rotary clubs had all this in their minds. That is why Rotary clubs have a representative of each business profession belonging to a huge range of fields. The club members help these people connect and then help each other and society together.

So the Story of Service Clubs begins when the first Rotary Club was formed by an American attorney, Paul P. Harris, who called together a meeting of three business acquaintances in downtown Chicago, at Harris' friend Sylvester Schiele's office in the Unity Building on Dearborn Street on February 23, 1905.

In addition to Harris and Schiele (a coal merchant), Gustave E. Loehr (mines engineer), and Hiram E. Shorey (tailor) were the other two who attended this first meeting. The members chose the name Rotary because initially they rotated subsequent weekly club meetings to each other's offices, although within a year, the Chicago club became so large it became necessary to adopt the now-common practice of a regular meeting place.

The next four Rotary Clubs were organized in cities in the western United States, beginning with San Francisco, then Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The National Association of Rotary Clubs in America was formed in 1910.

Four years later in Detroit, Michigan, a similar organization originated in August 1914 from a conversation between Allen S. Browne and Joseph G. Prance.

Browne's idea was to solicit business and professional men asking them if they would be interested in organizing a fraternal organization with a health benefit feature. Browne was compensated five dollars per new member that joined for his operating budget. Browne and Prance set out and recruited enough members to apply to the state for a not for profit status. The state approved the application on January 21, 1915 and The Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers was formed.

The name was changed to Kiwanis, taken from a Native American phrase "Nunc Kee-wanis," that means "we trade" or "we share our talents" a year later, after getting tired of belonging to an organization known as "BOB". So the Kiwanis Club of Detroit is the original local club in Kiwanis. By 1927 the organization had more than 100,000 members.

Kiwanis Members, who shared their motto “We build”, included mayors, councilmen and local businesspeople who meet every week to discuss community affairs, business and politics as well as to raise money for its projects. Some clubs hosted their meetings over breakfast, others over lunch or after work.

The six permanent Objects of Kiwanis International were approved by Kiwanis club delegates at the 1924 Convention in Denver, Colorado, they are still applied today:

  • To give primacy to the human and spiritual rather than to the material values of life;
  • To encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships;
  • To promote the adoption and the application of higher social, business, and professional standards;
  • To develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive, and serviceable citizenship;
  • To provide, through Kiwanis clubs, a practical means to form enduring friendships, to render altruistic service, and to build better communities;
  • To cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism, and goodwill.

Two years later after the Kiwanis foundation, in 1917, a group of Birmingham, Alabama, businessmen who were members of the local Rotary club, thought that the club focused too much on increasing the business of club members, so they surrendered their club's charter. Led by Courtney Shropshire, a local doctor, they formed an independent service club named Civitan, derived from the Latin word for citizenship, with the motto “Builders of Good Citizenship”.

In the same year, the Lions Clubs International, a service membership organization that reached today 1,368,683 members world-wide, was founded in the United States on June 7 by Melvin Jones, a Chicago businessman. Jones asked, with regard to his colleagues, "What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition, were to put their talents to work improving their communities?" Jones' personal code, "You can't get very far until you start doing something for somebody else," reminds many Lions of the importance of community service.

The Lions motto was, and is, “We Serve.” Focal Lions Club programs include sight conservation, hearing and speech conservation, diabetes awareness, youth outreach, international relations, environmental issues, and other programs.

We can say that 1917 was the turning point from business club associations to Service Club organizations. In 1917 this kind of association matured in all the aspects of their activities as a well as in their mix of business networking, members benevolence, charity and community service. So came the time to expand their activities overseas.

* This article is part of a speech entitled 'A brief History of American Service Club Organizations', our President Dr. Carmelo Cutuli held on May 2012 at Rotary London Centenary Club.

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