Service Above Self

From the earliest days of British Rotary, there was deep suspicion about some of the commercial implications of the American style of operation. Indeed, Arthur Sheldon’s suggested slogan ‘he profits most who serves best’ was never officially recognized in Britain, although adopted in America in 1909. As late as 1949, RIBI officially discounted it for the emphatic use of the word ‘profit’.

In fact, Paul Harris himself was unhappy about the way in which the Chicago Club had developed. His original idea had been to found a club, based on fellowship, which should do something for the community from which it drew its members. The Chicago Club, however, had become a self help organisation, even having a ‘transactions register’ in which members recorded business deals resulting from their weekly meetings. It had effectively become, as some people realised, a closed shop. Restricting membership to only one person for each trade or profession gave extra emphasis to this, and Chicagoans even objected to the creation of clubs elsewhere in the United States. It was not the Rotary which Paul Harris had envisaged, in which service to the community was to be a direct result of the fellowship engendered in the regular meetings. *

It was another four years before another member of the Chicago Club, Chesley Perry, was able to support Harris in developing Rotary as a service organisation. With Chesley’s aid, Harris could now look for extension’ and several clubs were opened from 1909 onwards. Britain, however, had retained a more puritanical approach to business ethics, and Paul Harris had always considered that London would be a suitable stepping off point for a Rotary Club based on his concept of what Rotary should be.

The above piece is based on ‘Towards My Neighbour’ by C.R.Hewitt, published by Longman Green in London in 1950. This is definitely out of print and almost certainly unobtainable. The idea of giving work to fellow members was officially abandoned in the 1920s.

Written by Basil Lewis, RGHF Senior Historian

 * From Rotary In Canada – “75 years of Service Above Self” Page 5 “The 1912 Convention…. At the same meeting, it was decided to drop the “personal gains” idea and branch out into fields of unselfish works, a Service Organization — No. 1.”

Information provided is courtesy of members of the International Genealogy and Heraldry Fellowship of Rotarians in cooperation with Rotary Global History.