Lions Welcome Women

The women members of the Westport Lions Club, from the left, Julie-Anne Baird, April Baird, Cheryl Couper Scala and Dorothy Maynard.

Westport Lions Roar

By Lion Bob Reddick

Until July 5, 1987, women had been barred from joining Lion Clubs since its formation in 1917.  It took Lions Clubs International (LCI) 70 years to vote women into full membership rights and privileges, including the right to vote and hold office in a club.

Today Lions have 1.4 million members in 200 countries.  Lions began as a means for business owners to network and discuss business issues.  After a couple of years, the founder of the Lions, Melvin Jones, stated, “You can’t get very far until you start doing something for somebody else.”  Jones proposed that members’ talents could be better utilized by serving others.  The Chicago businessmen that formed the first Lions Club said women were barred from joining because so few women were in business at the time.  At that time, no service organization allowed women to join. 

The first Lions Club in the world to admit women did not come without a fight.  For admitting women into their Club, LCI voted unanimously in 1981 to revoke Portland Lloyd’s 21-year-old charter.  The Lloyd Lions appealed the decision and eventually won the right to admit women by taking the case to the Oregon Supreme Court.  That decision paved the way for women to join Lions throughout Oregon and eventually the world. 

The Portland Lloyd Club was not the first Club to have its charter cancelled.  The Century City Lions Club in Los Angeles was barred by LCI in March 1975. This Lions Club did not survive.

The first woman to join a Lions Club was Mary Mulfur, who joined Portland’s Lloyd Club with three other women in 1981.  She describes herself as, “Not much of a feminist.”   “I don’t think it was a women’s or feminists issue,” she said, “I wanted to make a contribution to help someone.”  Her manager at the real estate office where she worked invited Mary as a way to stem dropping membership.   “Well, it really came down to numbers issue,” said Lion Morgan Dickerson.  “We simply needed the members to stay active.” (The Oregonian, October 15, 1981)

According to Morgan, even though the fight was on with LCI, admitting women was not very controversial in his own Club. “All of our members were open to women joining. The culture of our Club did change a bit, and it allowed us to do more good. If you look at Lions Clubs today, there are some Clubs that are almost entirely women. It [allowing women to join] helped us, but it literally saved others Lions Clubs.” (The Oregonian, October 15, 1981)

In 2019 there were 425,000 female members and growing.  Women membership is the fastest-growing segment in Lions.  An excellent local example of the explosion of women joining Lions clubs is Seeley’s Bay.  This Club has 23 members comprising of seven men and sixteen women.

Women were welcome to join the Westport Lions Club for some time, but it was not until May 2015 that the first woman, Debi Stoness, became a Lion.  She remained a member until she moved away.

Today, we have four inducted female members with another woman that has registered but is waiting for induction.  In addition, the Westport Lions have six other women that are active and committed to several club projects.  I liken these women to couples that are fully committed in a relationship but see no reason to formalize their union through marriage.  All these women are involved, bring new and vibrant ideas to our Club, and make the Westport Lions a more robust organization. 

Sometimes we can all get stuck in our old ways, but women can open up service opportunities and bring a fresh voice and perspective.  As the number of women leaders in Lions grows, they will make Lions Clubs more adaptable and viable to meet future needs of our communities.

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