By Marcel Stéfanski
Past District Gouvernor 1670
This is a very difficult
topic to discuss without displaying a bit of national pride. We will
approach this subject in several ways:
first examine Rotary with regard to the French language. Although
geographically France is only of average size compared to nations
of continental proportions, it is still widely considered to be
one of the 5 great powers. We shall not go here into a long list
of reasons why the country deserves this designation, but rather
focus on the prevalence of its language: French. As of 16 March
2004, according to statistics from the Foreign Affairs Ministry,
there are 169 million French speakers worldwide. That is to say
3.2% of the world population. 44% of these French speakers are found
in Europe, 46.3% in Africa, 7.6% in America, 1.8% in Oceania, and
0.3% in Asia. Forty-nine countries were present at the International
Francophone Organization Conference for Heads of State and Government.
The Francophone community defines itself as a cohesive region where
the French language is used.
does this unique aspect of French fit into Rotary?
First of all, while English
is the official language of Rotary, many official documents, such
as the Manual of Procedure, are translated into French. District
delegates at the Council on Legislation may present enactments or
resolutions in French. This is the legal aspect of Rotary.
As for Rotary's official publications, eight
dealing with Membership and six discussing RI programs are published
On the more cultural side, we have a wonderful
French magazine, le
Rotarien for which a number of individuals have put forth
great time and effort, editor-in-chief Christophe Courjon first
among them. The magazine also operates a French website made
possible through the dedication of Paul Lugand, Guy Madelpuech
and Alain Marulier..
and Development of Rotary in France
From 1905 to 1921 : When
Paul Harris created the first Rotary Club on 23 February 1905, he
probably never imagined that his small circle of friends would soon
catch on like wildfire, first in the United States. With the help
of Manuel Munoz and Hosser Wood, clubs were created in San Francisco
in 1908, in Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles in 1909. By 1910 there
were 1,800 Rotarians in 16 clubs.
But it was in 1911 that Rotary
finally crossed the Atlantic and worked its way into England, Ireland
Thanks to the pioneering efforts
of the movement's leaders, by 1912 there were 50 clubs and 5,000 members.
In 1920, the Rotary Club of Tokyo was founded. This was also an important
year for those of us in continental Europe, as a club was founded
July 4th, 1921.
International President Crawford C. McCullough attended the
official chartering of RC Paris. Gabriel Gorce, a native of
Toulouse, was named President. The club had 16 members and organized
a lavish celebration in honor of the event.
Although there is
some controversy as to which club was the first to be admitted
into Rotary International, it is safe to say that, in 1923,
RC Paris sponsored two new clubs: Toulouse and Lyon.
Lyon received its
charter in April while Toulouse received its own in June. However,
Toulouse has a charter number of 1495 while Lyon's number is
1536! As of 1951, RI abandoned the practice of numbering its
charters! Toulouse had 21 founding members; Lyon had 40.
A 4th club was born in 1924: The
Rotary Club of Nice with 20 members.
Another historic event occurred
in 1925, with not yet even 5 clubs: the 49th district was created.
This French district would remain
unchanged until 1936. The district's first governor was Parisian Marcel
Franck, a perfume bottle manufacturer.
A Rotary Club in Angers was created
in October 1925, in Marseille in 1926.
1927 saw several more clubs: St.
Etienne, Nantes, Lille, Cannes, Bordeaux, Perpignan, Dijon, St Raphaël
Five more clubs appeared in 1928,
eight in 1929 and another eight in 1930 including 3 clubs in North
Africa: Casablanca, Alger, and Oran.
Up until the end of 1939, just
prior to the start of World War II, sixty-seven more clubs would be
It would be impossible to recount
in detail the history of all these clubs, but there are a few items
of historical note:
The first relates to the creation
of new clubs. In September of 1925, Ed Kelsey made a recommendation
at the Convention in Cleveland that clubs should have at least 15
members and no more than 25
Also, it was in the twenties
that Édouard Peguilhan of RC Nice, in great philosophical splendor,
offered his poetic description of the Rotary Wheel: "The circle
is an expression of curvilinear unity, outlined by a line that has
neither beginning nor end. Thus, the symbol shows both unity and infinity.
It represents the basic universal oneness from which all things derive!"
Up until 1936 there was only one
francophone district (49) encompassing 2,500 Rotarians and 72 clubs,
including 6 in North Africa. Rotary International then decided to
divide the area into three separate districts:
District 49: Northern France down
to the Loire River
District 47: Southwest France
District 48: Southeast France,
Corsica, Monaco, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Tangiers.
And in 1937 the Advisory Committee
of French Governors was born. CODIFAM (Advisory Committee of Districts
in France and Monaco) would not appear until 1982.
The stage had been set and many
great events would soon take place in France:
- The 4th International Convention outside of
American territory would be held in Nice, France. 5,790 Rotarians
View of stage
in Casino Municipal
where plenary sessions of convention were held .
- The event was inaugurated by French President
Albert Lebrun alongside four ministers. Paul Harris too was present.
from the office of French Republic President Albert Lebrun,
from left to right: Louis Moinault, Président
of the Rotary Club of Paris, Paul Harris,
Will R. Manier, Jr., RI President 1936-37,
Ulysse Fabre, Past District 91 Governor
et Maurice Duperrey, RI President-elect 1937-38.
At this Convention, Maurice
Duperrey was elected to be Rotary International President in 1937-1938.
The year that preceded World War
II only saw modest growth in the number of clubs. When hostilities
started to develop with Germany, France had a population of 41,900,000,
3 Rotary Districts, 100 Clubs and about 3,679 Rotarians.
- 1939 - 1945 (World War II)
Just as it was done in Nazi Germany
and all other countries under Hitler's rule, Rotary was prohibited
in France by the Vichy government. The reasons for this policy are
vague and complicated: often the occupiers and the government at the
time saw Rotary as a secret society, international in nature and tied
to the Anglo-Saxon Masons.
President Maurice Duperrey noted
that "Many Rotarians were taken as prisoners of war. Others
were forced to flee or exiled, sought refuge in England, the United
States or in neutral countries."
Those who were ready to fight
joined up with free French forces or braved all-too-real dangers to
lead resistances of their own.
And finally others, who never
gave up hope waiting for impending victory, sought to keep the Rotary
spirit alive, secretly meeting with other Rotarians.
Persecution, arrest, detention,
deportation, execution and all forms of torture imaginable decimated
French Rotarian's numbers. They silently endured these murderous activities
over the six seemingly unending years of anguish that made up the
And there are of course those
who, although not outright traitors, are not looked upon favorably
Yet nature does not only breed
heroes and, as philosopher Edgar Morin once said, "We would be
in error to judge men of one time period using hindsight that we have
gained in another."
Under the law of 13 August 1940,
the Vichy government prohibited any association or gathering that
conducted its activities, even partially, privately or in secret.
The text was deliberately designed to cause confusion, allowing for
the legal suppression of Rotary and numerous others.
The Masons, for example, were
blamed for all things, including the defeat and associated with Judaism
and ruthless international capitalism.
Catholic leadership officially
condemned the Rotary movement and listed RI among those associations
that should be avoided.
The experiences of each club differed
depending on whether they were located in the "free zone"
versus the "occupied" or "forbidden" zone. Up
until 1939, however, Rotary Clubs had one particularity: The Works
and Rotary Public Service Projects Committee coordinated all projects
- all French clubs participated in three national endeavors:
- Scholarships for the Hague Academy of International
- Medical Awards
- Language Study Scholarships.
In 1939, two clubs from Nice and Vichy completed
local Rotary projects:
- The Nice club's project
for abandoned mothers
- RC Vichy's project to provide free care for
needy French and foreign children.
Finally, it is interesting to look at the professional
breakdown of Rotary Club members as it stood in 1939-1940: :
- 16.74% Manufacturing
- 14.73% Health and
- 13.85% Agricultural
and Food Products
- 9.13% Legal
- 6.81% Finance
- 5.43% Transportation
- 5.18% Energy and
- 4.88% Art and Culture
- 3.28% Public Administration
- 2.40% Tourism
- 2.28% Information/Media
While there were 3,675 Rotarians
in 1939, there were 3,721 by 1947.
And so, slowly, Rotary began to
reestablish itself in France. The Rotary ideal held fast and came
through this unprecedented dark moment in history triumphant. For
as Bill Huntley reminds us, "Rotarians are the guarantors
of dignity and respect, they are the champions of wisdom and humanity.".
1944-45, French clubs, like those
in other recently liberated European countries, began to rebuild,
resume their activities, and move once again toward expansion.
In 1947 the French publication
Le Rotarien was born. Richard Levin would serve as editor-in-chief
until his death in 1969.
It was about this time that French
and German Rotarians began to take steps toward reconciliation. Governors
Roger Coutant and Jean Caroni, both members of the Rotary Club of
Lille (District 70) and Robert Hausmann from Stuttgart (District 74)
spearheaded this initiative, creating the France-Germany Intercountry
Committee and organizing the first meeting of Intercountry Committees
Those who are interested in the
work of Intercountry Committees are highly encouraged to visit
the French Rotary website: www.rotary-francophone.org
and explore the "les comités interpays français"
In 1951, the French Rotary Center
for Youth reopened in Lyon, continuing its promotion of international
programs to assist young people.
In 1953, Paris was chosen to
host the 44th Rotary International Convention. 200 representatives
participated in the Council on Legislation at the "Maison de
la Chimie" and French President Vincent Auriol received a Rotary
delegation at his "Elysée" residence.
Rotary International President 1952/53 is awarded
"Officier de la légion d'honneur"
by French Republic President Vincent Auriol.
Under President Bill Huntley,
the international convention was held for the third time in Nice and
was a smashing success, attracting 35,000 Rotarians! The nearly 100,000
euros in surplus revenues were almost entirely donated to The Rotary
In addition to these major events,
Rotary in France has also initiated a number of projects on its own:
the Peace Award, the National Service Award, the Skilled Trades Award
and the Rotary Award for French Literature. .
Multidistrict projects began to
develop: International Medical Partnership (Entraide Médicale
International), Ophthalmologists Without Borders, International Project
for Development through Water, the Rotary Humanitarian Collection
Yet French Rotary Club initiatives
are not limited to financial support to larger institutions. Clubs
and districts undertake thousands of public service projects. The
French Rotarian spirit of service is at work everywhere.
Just as Popes in Rome have considered
France to be "the church's eldest daughter," Rotary in France
and its Rotarians, while not seeking a place of privilege, have similarly
been for Rotary International a strong proponent of the Rotary ideal
in responding to the world's most needy.
In an effort to increase efficiency
in 1991, Rotary began renumbering its districts. Today there are 18
districts in zone 11 for 987 clubs and 33,939 Rotarians. We can also
add to this zone 12, for which Director Serge GOUTEYRON is also responsible,
which includes 680 clubs and 39,302 Rotarians from Italy, Malta, San
Marino, Yugoslavia, Albania.
These two zones have a combined
total of 73,241 Rotarians united TO SERVE!
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