At one time in the late 1960s, a chapter of the Washington Post Jaycees experimented with an innovative method of luring its all-male membership to meetings. After lunch and business at the Burlington Hotel, topless dancers performed and nudist colony films were screened.
A decade and a social revolution later, the downtown Washington Jaycees is a different organization. Women now make up 30 percent of the membership - which is still restricted to persons between ages of 18 and 35 - and there are women project directors and officers.
The change in chapters like that of downtown Washington has been drastic, and to the Jaycees of Waldorf, Md., it has not been logical. The attitudes of the Waldorf Jaycees, who represent the largest chapter of the community service organization in Maryland, have changed very little in the last 10 years.
"It's a man's organization, it has always been a men's organization, and that's why I joined it," said Brian Ramsey, president of the 158-member Waldorf chapter.
"When we do something," Ramsey said, "the girls run the concessions, and we do whatever else needs to be done. It's a wife-help-husband deal, and that's the way it should be."
The contrast between the Waldorf and Washington Jaycees is illustrative of confrontations now going on among Jaycees groups in every area of the country. It is a standoff between large metropolitan chapters and those in upper-middle class, suburband communities, and the largely rural, smalltown, fierecely traditional chapters that constitute 80 percent of the 8,000 Jaycees organizations across the nation.
The issue is women's membership. Most urban chapters believe that the all-male membership policy of the Jaycees is anachronic and crippling to organizations dedicated to working on community projects. The rural chapters, and those in many other areas, insist that women cannot be jaycees.
The debate has been going on for almost five years. Now, within the next six months, it may split the 377,500 member organization apart.
After three years of a pilot program allowing women membership - during which chapters in Massachusetts. Alaska and the District of Columbia were officially allowed to admit women and many others unofficially followed suit - the Jaycees voted 4 to 1 at their national convention in June to continue their all-male bylaws.
Subsequently, national president Barry Kennedy ordered that the some 120 chapters with women alte their rules to conform with the national policy by Dec. 1.Those that refuse, Kennedy says, will be brought up before the naitonal Jaycee board in January for charter revocation proceedings.
Kennedy says he does not expect many chapters to defy the national convention vote. "Jaycees are willing to work within the system," he said. "We don't want to lose any chapters, and I don't really think that we will."
But all three Washington-area chapters with women members - downtown, Capitol Hill and Columbia, Md. say they intend to fight for their right to accept women. If necessary, they say, they will go to court.
"We see [Kennedy's Dec. 1 ultimatum] as a bluff tactic," said Judd Swift, president of the Capitol Hill chapter. "But we are not going to back down. They are going to have to come and get us legally."
Other chapters around the country are rebelling against the all-male policy. Both the Chicago and Philadelphia chapters have dropped out of the national Jaycees have voted to pull out Nov. 30 if women are not allowed to join their chapter.
The Massachusetts state Jaycee board has voted unaminously to support women's membership. And according to state chairman Mike Lynch, th group will seek a court injunction allowing their "duly elected women officers" to finish their terms after Dec. 1.
Those who favor women's membership have practical as well as human rights reasons for advocating a change. "We have to have economic and political support in order to be effective," says Gregory Jennings, president of the downtown Washington Jaycees. "And businesses are not going to support an organization that excludes women."
There are two points of view on teh other side of the question. One is Kennedy's: "It's not a woman's membership issue now," he says. "That's been decided. Now it's a question of whether the bylaws are going to be enforced. And I think we would rather lose a few chapters than not have the bylaws enforced."
There are many chapters, too, that believe that Jaycee chapters with women cannot be Jaycees, whether the bylaws are changed or not. "If you can't get enough men to do the work in the community and have to bring in women, I say pull the chapter's charter," said Waldorf's Ramsey.
"We may just quit ourselves. I'm sick of this issue. Every time I go to a state meeting, all I hear about is women's membership, women's membership. I don't want to fool with it."
"For a lot of rural chapters," reasons Jonnie-Kay McLean of Columbia, "the Jaycees is the boys' night out. They think that if they have women around they won't be able to drink and swear and look at stag films anymore."
But the rural Jaycees see it differently. "It's like religion," said Phyllis Raudenbush of Havre de Grace, Md., chairman of the Maryland Jayceettes, a woman's auxiliary the Jaycees founded four years ago. "You are brought up to go to church on Sunday, and that's what you do, and you don't stop to think about it."