Prior to a decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court in 1987, Rotary was a men’s organization, and in many clubs, the wives of the members were called “Rotary Anns”. With the Court decision in the eighties, and with more women in the professions than ever before, the term “Rotary Ann” began to fall out of favor and clubs of Rotary Anns disappeared. While the name “Rotary Ann” has not gone completely out of favor, wives are more commonly known as “Rotary Spouses” or “Partners.
In 1987, women were admitted to Rotary, and today women are the fastest growing segment of Rotary’s membership.
Why were wives of male members affectionately called “Rotary Anns”?
This designation was never one of disparagement, but rather grew out of an interesting historical occasion. The year was 1914 when San Francisco Rotarians boarded a special train to attend the Rotary Convention being held in Houston. In those days few wives attended Rotary events, and until the train stopped in Los Angeles, the only woman aboard was the wife of Rotarian Brunnier.
Former Rotary International President Henry Brunnier and wife, Ann, on the campus of Iowa State University. The Brunniers established a trust fund for the University in 1962.
As the train picked up additional convention-bound delegates, Mrs. Ann Brunnier was introduced as the Rotarian’s Ann. This title soon became “Rotary Ann”. Since the clubs of the west were inviting the Rotarians to hold their next convention in San Francisco, a number of songs and stunts were organized which would be performed in Houston.
Ann Gundaker from the August 1929 issue of The Rotarian)
One of the Rotarians wrote a “Rotary Ann” chant. On the train’s arrival at the Houston depot, a delegation greeted the West Coast Rotarians. One of the greeters was Guy Gundaker of Philadelphia, whose wife was also named Ann.
During the demonstration, someone started the Rotary Ann chant. The two petite ladies, Ann Brunnier and Ann Gundaker, were hoisted to the men’s shoulders and parade about the hall. The group loved the title given to the two women named Ann. Immediately the same term of endearment was used for all of the wives in attendance and the name “Rotary Ann” was here to stay.
Nine years later, in 1923, Guy Gundaker became president of Rotary International. Bru Brunnier was elected president in 1952, 29 years after that. Thus, each of the two original Rotary Anns became the “first lady of Rotary International.”
Oklahoma City, Club 29 is responsible for the origin of the Rotary Ann auxiliary organization. OKC Rotarian Virgil Browne’s wife, Maimee Lee, proposed this organization to Club 29 in November, 1928, and its acceptance has spread to thousands of clubs throughout the Rotary world.
Rotary Ann Bracelet (above) courtesy of Doug Rudman
One of the purposes of a Rotary Ann Club is to bring into fellowship the families of the members of the Rotary club. Other objectives include assisting Rotarians in the execution of various club and community projects and uphold the purposes and aims of Rotary.
Most chapters meet once a month, usually at the home of one of the members in almost all but the larger clubs. These meetings are devoted mainly to fellowship and to discuss the various projects of the Rotary Ann Club as well as possible assistance to their Rotarians.