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High Court Says Rotary Can't Exclude Women : A Matter of Survival, Not Rights, Club Says

May 05, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

It was a fight for survival, not women's rights, that put the tiny Duarte Rotary Club in the forefront of a battle that ended Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that states can compel Rotary International to admit women members.

"We went through the court process for survival," said Luke McJimpson, a 28-year member of the Duarte club. "We were not trying to be pioneers.

"But two-thirds of the professional positions in Duarte are held by females and they wanted to give service, so why deny them the opportunity?"

About to Disband

The legal dispute began after the club, which had only eight active members and was about to disband, sought to bolster its membership rolls in 1977 by admitting women.

Members were aware that the admission of three women that year--Mary Lou Elliott, Rosemary Freitag and Donna Bogart--violated Rotary International bylaws. But the move kept the organization alive.

By 1978, the club had doubled its membership. When visiting Rotary dignitaries saw the women members at the Duarte club's 25th anniversary celebration that year, they notified the club that it must terminate the women's membership or the club charter would be rescinded.

Offered to Resign

The three original women members offered to resign so the club could keep its charter. But the other members twice voted unanimously to retain them and the club was expelled by its parent organization.

The group renamed itself the Duarte Ex-Rotary Club and operated as an independent service organization while its lengthy court battle for reinstatement went forward.

"What we were doing shook up a huge old institution, but we didn't do it to create a stir," said Richard Key, a former member who was president of the club in 1978.

"We did it to survive as a club. But once we got into it, we found we had a bigger issue--it was human rights. We had a lot of nerve, but not much else," Key said in an interview last year.

One Still With Club

"I'm excited about it," Mary Lou Elliott, the only one of three original women members still affiliated with the club, said of the ruling.

"All the years we went through are worth it to me because we will be affiliated with Rotary International in good standing.

"But I don't feel like I was fighting for the rights of women; it was the right of the club to determine the matter for themselves," Elliott said.

"We are professionals, we're in business and men and women should be working together, not separately," Freitag said.

'A Long Struggle'

"Although it's been a long struggle, I always felt there would be a victory," said McJimpson, who traveled to Tokyo in 1978 to plead with Rotary International convention delegates to reinstate the Duarte club. The delegates turned him down by a 1,060-34 vote.

The Duarte club now has 19 members, 10 of whom are women. But McJimpson and other club members foresee a growth in membership now that the court has ruled.

"There are businessmen in Duarte who belong to Rotary International but have been going to meetings of Monrovia Rotary," said Don Anderson, a recent past president of the Duarte club.

Another member, Donna Georgino, said some professionals in Duarte who did not join the Ex-Rotary Club because it was not affiliated with the international organization might join now.

"The women carry a great load . . . so we are an advantage to the club," she said.

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