Rotary Adopts a Platform in 1911
At the 1910 Convention in Chicago, delegates debated as a “Rotary Platform,”
a modified version of the platform of the Seattle club.
The following year at the second convention, in Portland, Oregon, Seattle members Ernie Skeel, Roy Denny and Jim Pinkham were in attendance.
Skeel and Pinkham were personally responsible for the Rotary Platform proposed the year before. Denny, as national vice-president, presided over several of the sessions. Jim Pinkham was chair of the Resolutions Committee, and had brought the Seattle platform to the floor of the convention for discussion and a vote. The ensuing discussion had been ambivalent, and Pinkham had resisted a vote, presumably in fear that it would not pass.
At that point, a report by the Committee on Business Methods, authored by Chicago member Arthur Sheldon, was read. Sheldon was unable to attend the Portland convention, but had submitted the report, which contained the phrase “He profits most who serves best.” The previous year, Sheldon had attended the 1910 convention in Chicago, and had spoken a similar phrase to the assembled delegates, “He profits most who serves his fellows best.”
When the reading of the Business Methods report was finished, Pinkham jumped to his feet and said, “Here is a positive affirmation packaged in six words. Those words should be put into Rotary’s platform.” The conventioneers agreed with a thunderous round of applause and a standing ovation. The Rotary Platform passed by acclamation on a voice vote.
Pinkham had become a firm believer that businesses should be conducted not just for profit, but also to benefit society at large. As chair of the Resolutions Committee, he said, “Rotary membership is both a responsibility and a privilege. If one is met and the other used the result will be progressive efforts for good. He profits most who serves best.”
The final version of the original Rotary platform, approved by the 1911 delegates, became the basis of the organization in the United States, as well as those clubs that were formed in American colonies in foreign countries. It follows:
“Recognizing the commercial basis of modern life as a necessary incident in human evolution, the Rotary Club is organized to express the proper relation between private interests and the fusion of private interests which constitutes society.
“To accomplish this purpose more effectively, the principle of limited membership has been adopted, the Rotary Club consisting of one representative from each distinct line of business or profession. Each member is benefited by contact with representative men engaged in different occupations and is enabled there-by to meet more intelligently the responsibilities of civic and business life.
“The basis of club membership insures the representation of all interests and the domination of none, in the consideration of public questions relating to business. On account of its limited membership the Rotary Club does not constitute itself the voice of the entire community on questions of general importance, but its action on such questions is of great influence in advancing the civic and business welfare of the community.
“The Rotary Club demands fair dealings, honest methods, and high standards in business. No obligation, actual or implied, to influence business exists in Rotary. Election to membership therein is an expression of confidence of the club in the member elected, and of its good will toward him. As his business is an expression of himself, he is expected to represent it.
“Membership in the Rotary Club is a privilege and an opportunity and its responsibility demands honest and efficient service and thoughtfulness for one’s fellows.
“Service is the basis of all business. He profits most who serves best.”
In hindsight, many have seen the reading of Sheldon’s phrase and Pinkham’s response as a defining moment in the development of Rotary. “He profits most who serves best” served Rotary for over half a century. It also played a major role in the evolution of Rotary from a business-oriented organization to a community service organization, a change that would commence within the decade.
Editor/Publisher Chesley Perry, in the October 1913 issue of The Rotarian on page 5 of that issue, said, “Rotary had a raison d’etre with which to challenge the admiration of the world.
“Service is the watchword of Rotary today and forever more. In service is truth, for how can one serve well if not truly. In service is efficiency, for how may one expect his service to be of value unless it be efficient. And when one feels the impulse of service, how great and how numerous are the opportunities. For countless ages, men seem to have thought they had to have some special commission in order to be able to do something worth while-some office, some rank, that they had to be anointed as of the priesthood before any opportunity for service was open to them.
The “Rotary Platform” is essentially unchanged today. Its major differences are the concessions made to the role of women in Society and Rotary. It can be found here.
Sources include Walsh’s “The First Rotarian,” The Rotarian, Seattle Rotary Golden Years 1909-1959, and Seattle4’s history for new members.