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In Celebration of Women's History Month: History of Women in Lions Clubs

by Doreen Martel
March 20, 2019

Amy Porter, Pam Zicko, Linda Ahronian, Louise Kirkpatrick and Lisa Zais. Residents of Holliston will recognize these women’s names because they have all been recognized as Citizen of the Year for Holliston. But there’s something you may not know.

These women also are part of the world’s largest service organization, Lions Clubs International (LCI). The Holliston Lions Club became part of LCI in 1941. At that time, women were not allowed to be part of Lions, despite the fact Lions obtained their mission — eradicating blindness — from a woman, specifically, Helen Keller. It is also worth noting that the “Lions Toast,” which is unique to Massachusetts and reads simply “Not above you, not beneath you but with you” was written by the wife of a Lions Club member in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Women in Lions: A Complex History

Helen Keller became known as “the First Lady of Lionism” and her trusted companion, Annie Sullivan became known as the “Second Lady” in 1925 after Helen Keller challenged Lions Clubs Members to become “Knights of the Blind” at their International Convention.  While these were largely honorary titles, it is worth noting that LCI had a by-law in place which prohibited women from becoming members of a Lions Club.

Because so many spouses were assisting their Lions husbands with Lions activities, these ladies were known collectively as “Lioness.”  In 1975, LCI officially adopted the Lioness program and offered membership to women who were interested in Community Service without regard to whether their spouses were Lions Clubs members. The first “official” Lioness Club was formed on December 24, 1975 in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. Lioness Clubs were considered a service project of the all-male Lions Clubs.

Women Officially Welcomed to Lions Clubs

During their 1987 convention, an official vote was taken to admit women to Lions Clubs officially. LCI was the first service organization to admit women to their membership. While women were officially able to become members, thousands of Lions Club members resigned their membership when the first women joined their local Lions Club.

One of the challenges faced by these new women Lions was the ability to accept leadership roles. Without meeting the constitutional requirements of being a President of a Lions Club, women were unable to move into District, Multiple District or International leadership positions.

The first women joined LCI on July 4, 1987. In 1991, the first woman served as District Governor of her District in France. In 1999, the first woman was elected as a Director of LCI, her home club was in Pakistan. In our immediate area, it was not until 2001 when we elected our first female District Governor. Lion Bette Purvis, a Medfield Lion, served as the first women District Governor in District 33K, the District of which the Holliston Lions Club is a part.

Great Strides in Leadership

While Bette may have served as the first female District Governor, she was not to be the last. Since then, this position has been filled by Rita Pierce (Hopkinton), Joyce Hogan (Quincy), Pat Kalicki (Medway), Margaret Menard (Hyde Park) and Doreen Martel (then a member of Franklin). Today, we have three women leaders in our District, our current District Governor Deb Hayes (Millis), 1st Vice District Governor Dawn Rice-Norton (Medway), and 2nd Vice District Governor Dr. Deb Wayne (Malden). Currently, the first woman to serve as President of Lions Clubs International, Gudrun Bjort Yngvadottir from Iceland is serving the second half of her year, 101 years after the founding of Lions Clubs International.

Today, the Holliston Lions Club has 84 members. There are 27 women in the Club, many of them holding leadership roles. As we celebrate Women’s History Month it is worth remembering that women we all know have made a difference in our communities by selflessly giving of their time, energy, and efforts. The Holliston Lions Club welcomes members who have a desire to give back to the community without regards to their gender. If you wish to learn more about the Holliston Lions, you can learn more on their website or contact any Holliston Lions Club member.


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Comments (1)

Great article Doreen! Holliston Lions proud!

- Robin Turner Natanel | 3/21/19 5:36 PM



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