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How the Rotary Club Works

History of the Rotary Club

The Rotary Club is a massive organization that boasts a whopping 1.2 million members in more than 200 countries [source: RI]. But as with most movements, it started with a single, creative spark in one person's mind. In 1905, Paul P. Harris caught the itch to start a professional gathering of people and ideas. Harris had fond memories of being raised in a small town, and he wanted to bring the dedication and camaraderie of that setting to his big-city life in Chicago. In the early days, meetings moved from one member's home to the next -- this rotation is what inspired the group's name.

Before long, other cities were taking notice of the club and wanted to form their own groups. Rotary spread like wildfire, first across the United States and then across the globe. Within two decades, there were 20,000 Rotary members in over 200 countries [source: RI]. When groups are local, it's easy to only focus on the immediate needs of your own community. As Rotary blossomed into a global organization, however, the members began to think beyond their city gates. In 1922, the organization renamed itself Rotary International and eventually adopted the motto "Service Above Self" [source: RI].

As major events in world history came and went, Rotary was there. Their members worked through World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The focus began to shift toward working on modern issues, such as environmental degradation, world hunger and illiteracy. Rotary also modernized by allowing women to join the group -- in 1989, Rotary International opened its doors to female members [source: RI].

Read on to learn about Rotary projects in the United States and abroad.