The Lebanon Noon Rotary Club was founded in 1921 and didn’t allow women until 1996.
“It took them 75 years to induct the first woman into the club, which is pretty crazy,” said Lucy Lee, a former club president and one of the first women inducted. “Women today, even in the club, just cannot believe that it wasn’t until the mid-‘90s that this happened.”
On July 9, 1996, Lee was one of three women inducted into the club. It was the first time women were voted into the ranks.
“The Lebanon Noon Rotary was kind of a bastion of men, and they just really weren’t going to be told that they had to take women,” said Lee. “It finally got to where they realized they had to do it. What was happening was they were saying, ‘oh yeah we’ll let women come in,’ but there was a blackball rule that you could blackball anybody for anything, and you didn’t have to give a reason. Well, they finally changed the bylaws to say you have to give a reason, and being a woman is not a reason.”
Even after she was voted into the club, not everyone accepted Lee as a legitimate member.
“Truthfully, the first day I walked in as a Rotarian, there were men who left,” said Lee. “The guy who was sitting next to me stood up, looked me in the eye and said, ‘you know this isn’t because of you,’ and I thought, ‘yeah right,’ but he said, ‘I just don’t think that we should have changed the bylaws’ or some such nonsense.”
Almost ten years after her induction into the club, Lee was chosen as the president.
“They supported me. I got up there and told them there wasn’t going to be any drastic changes in the club; I just wear a dress from time to time. That’s about the only change you’re going to see,” said Lee.
Lee’s time as president ended in 2006, and she still serves as a member of the Noon Rotary Club.
“It’s been a long haul,” said Lee. “But now it cheers me to see more women and some younger women coming in.”
Laura Headley is the current president of the rotary club and the first woman president since Lee. Headley was ready for the challenge when she took the helm in 2016.
“I’m a financial advisor, so I’m already a minority in my profession,” said Headley. “Only about 15-20 percent of advisors nationally are women.”
The club has come a long way since Lee’s induction in 1996. In fact, the current president-elect, Teresa Musice, is also a woman, marking the first time in club history that there will be back-to-back women presidents.
“I think people are happy about it,” said Headley. “Just happy that we’re getting more diverse and that we’re getting younger people. Our membership and our attendance is up, so I think it’s a very dynamic, good, growing time for our club.”
Lee is also happy with the direction of the club and said she didn’t mean to start anything radical, but is happy to have played the role that she did.
“I’m not this big feminist, you know. I didn’t ask to do this by any stretch of the imagination,” said Lee. “I had a dear friend who just felt that I needed to be in Rotary, along with some other strong women, and he just was determined to make it happen. So, he wanted me there, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. My dad had been a Rotarian, so I knew a little bit about it, and so, that’s kind of how it happened.”