Flushing with Pride … Rotary’s first public service project was also rooted in Vocational Service

Early on, Harris realized that Rotary needed a greater purpose. While Harris served as president of the Chicago Rotary Club in 1907, the club initiated its first public service project, the construction of public toilets in Chicago. This step transformed Rotary into the world’s first Service Club.  The Rotary Club of Chicago performs one of its first acts of community service. The club calls a meeting of civic organizations to establish a committee for installing city comfort stations, or public toilets, to improve sanitation.

It was this same concept of promoting business which led to the first community service project of the original Chicago Rotary Club. In their effort to promote more business, the members decided that since the women did most of the shopping in downtown Chicago, they would do even more if they stayed downtown longer. So, what was the answer? If they put public toilets in downtown Chicago – the shoppers would not have to go home so soon. And that is what they did — installed the first public restrooms in downtown Chicago. When service is provided — business is enhanced. It was on that basis that the world’s service club movement was launched.

In such atmosphere, Rotary’s first public service was rendered. It consisted of initiating and promulgating the establishment of public comfort stations in Chicago. Of all the multitudinous undertakings of Rotary, the writer can not recall one more ambitious. Rotary’s first public undertaking resulted in the enrollment of every important civic organization in the city of Chicago, and also the city and county administrations, in its support. For more than two years the battle against indifference, vested interests, and so forth continued until eventually Chicago’s first public comfort station was established on the northeastern corner of Washington and LaSalle streets. The greater significance however, was in the fact that it was the precursor of thousands of similar services rendered by Rotarians throughout the world. Its lesser significance is to be found in the fact that the Rotary Club was raised to the rank of a civic organization in Chicago, to be counted on, henceforth, as an asset in the city. The head of the Y.M.C.A. expressed the prevailing sentiment when he said, “The Rotary Club of Chicago has now shown reason for its existence.”

“It has been stated that the purpose of going into the field of civics was to camouflage the real purpose, which was profits. The writer can not speak authoritatively as to what was in the minds of others. He can speak regarding what was in his own mind. He was engrossed in the business of building up a club of the best possible kind. He had a vision of the possibilities of great expansion and he wanted to make his club worthy of its manifest destiny. Some who joined Rotary much later, have expressed themselves as amazed on discovering that Rotary was not full- fledged in the very beginning. It was not, and it would not have been in the natural order of things had it been so. In fact, to the thoughtful observer, Rotary is not full- fledged now, and the writer hopes that it will never arrive at that state, during his day.”

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