Every now and then, an item in our weekly Lookback feature, published on Monday mornings, touches on a topic of particular poignancy to those on the staff who were at the newspaper then. Such an item appeared this past Monday.
It recalled the fact that 25 years ago this week, the Plattsburgh Rotary Club voted unanimously to begin admitting women for membership.
In today’s context, such a vote seems absurd. After all, women are so prominent a part of the North Country’s leadership that is seems oddly out of touch with reality to have any organization having to formally vote to allow them in.
Yet, it was true: Rotary did not have any women as members, and this was by the club’s choice.
Rotary typically consists of a community’s most prominent citizens. It has historically been a haven for forging and cementing useful business connections, as well as collectively accomplishing good for people throughout the world.
According to the club’s Website, Rotary’s “main objective is service — in the community, in the workplace, and around the globe. The 1.2 million Rotarians who make up more than 34,000 Rotary clubs in nearly every country in the world share a dedication to the ideal of Service Above Self. Rotary clubs are open to people of all cultures and ethnicities and are not affiliated with any political or religious organizations.”
Thus, barring women as members was at serious odds with the ideals of the organization.
Back in 1987, the ban was not a big issue around here, even though Plattsburgh was home to many high-profile women, particularly in the business community. We hesitate to begin naming prominent women of the time for fear of omitting ones who should not be omitted, but three seem to stand out as especially influencial in Plattsburgh and Clinton County: Rose Larsen and Marie Beemer ran two of downtown Plattsburgh’s biggest and most successful businesses and led campaigns to try to reinfuse commerce into the neighborhood stripped of much of its activity by the opening of the Pyramid Mall on Route 3, now Champlain Centre; and Celine Paquette, who was a Northern Tier businesswoman, educator and politician whose service and influence extended to the state capital.
We asked Rotarians from time to time in the ‘80s why women hadn’t been welcomed into the club, and a couple of older members said then that admitting women would douse the exchange of off-color humor.
So 25 years later, we look back at that pivotal moment in the history of all such clubs in the region, really, and it seems then a different — and clearly less appealing — era.
Women have enriched local Rotary, Kiwanis and all clubs in the region. Restricting who can join based on superficial criteria is anti-American and just plain bad business.
Every organization should want the best — not just half of the best.