Serge GOUTEYRON, Directeur 2004-06 du Rotary International

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Rotary in France
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:

  • We shall 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.

  • But how 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 in French.

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..


The Birth and Development of Rotary in France
  • 1921 - 1939

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 and Scotland.

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 in Madrid.

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 and Grenoble.

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 founded.

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 woud attend.

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.

Coming out 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.

Maurice Dyperrey

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 occupation.

And there are of course those who, although not outright traitors, are not looked upon favorably by history.

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 Law
  • 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 Social Services
  • 13.85% Agricultural and Food Products
  • 9.13% Legal
  • 6.81% Finance
  • 5.43% Transportation
  • 5.18% Energy and Waterworks
  • 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.".


  • 1945 - 2004

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 in Strasbourg..

Those who are interested in the work of Intercountry Committees are highly encouraged to visit the French Rotary website: and explore the "les comités interpays français" web link.

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.

Henri Brunier, 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 Foundation.

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 Association, etc.

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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