The Rotary Club of Washington D.C. has decided to allow women to join the 75-year-old community service organization.
The D.C. club thus joins an increasing number of chapters across the country that have dropped the all-male provision despite the wording of their international charter.
The announcement was made by the club's new president at his inaugural luncheon yesterday and comes a day after delegates to the Kiwanis International convention here voted by an 80 percent majority to open its membership to women.
"We change with the times and the times are changing," said Dr. Marvin Gibson, the new president of the club. "I think it's time if a lady wants to join, then the club be available . . . ."
Although the decision violates the international charter, the governing board had to give tacit approval to such local actions or fight a losing legal battle after the Supreme Court ruled that states may force all-male clubs such as Rotary to admit women members.
There is no estimate of how many local Rotary clubs in the United States have abrogated the all-male rule, but Boston, Seattle and Duarte, Calif., already have women members. The District club is the first Rotary chapter in the Washington region, which has 45 clubs, to allow membership to women.
Last month, the president of Rotary International, M.A.T. Caparas, sent a letter to 6,700 clubs in the United States, stating that the international board of directors would abide by the Supreme Court decision and not withdraw a club's charter if the club decides to accept a woman member.
As a result, many clubs in states with laws regarding public accommodation and sex discrimination have decided not to preclude women from membership, said Jack Giles, a Rotary International spokesman.
But the all-male provision cannot be changed until the Council of Legislators meets in 1989. At that time, "there will be a great effort to make the proposal worldwide," Giles said.
Still, officials with Rotary and other service organizations warned that membership is restrictive and is based on the discretion of each club and its members. A committee of members decides on each prospective member.
Worldwide, Rotary International has about 1.1 million members in 23,000 clubs. U.S. membership makes up about 30 percent of Rotary's total number with 385,000 members in 6,700 clubs, Giles said. The Supreme Court ruling applies only to clubs in the United States and only in states with laws prohibiting sex discrimination.
Gibson said a survey of members showed 76 percent favoring allowing women to join immediately.
"Several members have indicated that they will invite a woman to join the club," Gibson said.