Much like Rotary International and the Elks Club, the Kiwanis Club started out as an organization for men. Kiwanis was founded in 1915 in Lower Michigan [source: Britannica]. Two Detroit businessmen, Allen Browne (a professional organizer) and Joseph Prance (a tailor), started the club to serve the poor and help young professional men exchange business services with each other.
Within the first six months of its founding, the Kiwanis Club drew 200 members, who each paid a $5 fee to join [source: History Bulletin on Kiwanis]. By 1916, there were already Kiwanis clubs in Cleveland, Rochester, New York City, Chicago and Boston, as well as one in Canada --establishing Kiwanis as an international organization. In 1919, the young club had its first identity crisis: whether it should focus on business networking or community service. The service advocates won the debate. Since then, helping the poor -- particularly children -- has been its mission [source: Detroit Kiwanis Club #1].
Until 1962, Kiwanis membership was limited to the U.S. and Canada. But after the membership approved worldwide expansion, the organization spread across the globe, with clubs in 96 countries [source: Kiwanis International].
In 1987, Kiwanis International underwent another significant change: admitting women. For 72 years, it had been a men-only organization. But that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in May of that year that Rotary Club International could not exclude women based on gender. Rather than face its own legal action, Kiwanis International voted in July 1987 to become co-ed, incorporating its auxiliary "Kiwaniannes" clubs, which comprised the wives of Kiwanis members, into the general membership. Within the first six months of the rule change, more than 3,000 women joined [source: Detroit Kiwanis Club #1].
Read on to find out what Kiwanis do at home and abroad.