Touchstone Story: The Lions Pride Expands
In July 1987, at the Lions Clubs International Convention, delegates voted to open the association’s membership to women around the world.
While some early Lions clubs had women members, in 1918 the Lions Constitution was changed to limit membership to men. It would be almost 70 years before women would be once again welcomed into Lions Clubs International as members. In the meantime, many women volunteered alongside their husbands, friends and family members who were Lions. Some women formed Lioness clubs, the first of which was founded in 1920 in Quincy, Illinois, to support the activities of Lions clubs.
Lions began to take steps to open Lions membership to women in the 1980s at the same time as several lawsuits in the United States were challenging the right of private clubs to have men-only membership. A motion to include women was narrowly voted down at the Lions Clubs International Convention in 1986.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May 1987 that a California law prohibiting sex discrimination by any “business establishment” applied to Rotary Club, LCI opened membership to women in the United States. Women around the globe were welcomed into membership shortly after at the international convention.
Just two months after the vote, 3,500 women had joined the organization, bringing fresh perspectives and additional hands for service. Within five years, Lions had 55,000 women members.
In the last 30 years, the proportion of women in Lions Clubs has grown significantly. In 2004, Lions began a task force to discover and plan community projects that are of interest to women, identify new members and promote and charter new clubs. By 2015, women accounted for 27 percent of Lions membership worldwide, and 38 percent of new members are women. In some parts of the world the numbers are even higher. Women make up 43.5 percent of Lions in the constitutional area spanning South America, Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico.
Lions’ strong service model is attractive to women who want to invest their time and energy into helping their communities. With their efforts and enthusiasm, Lions Clubs is a more thriving, global organization, ready for another century of service.