Friday, November 14, 2014

The 90th Anniversary of Toastmasters International and the role of women

On October 22, 2014 Toastmasters International officially celebrated its 90th anniversary. The press release noted they currently have over 313,000 members in more than 14,650 clubs located in 126 countries. That is a remarkable achievement for an organization almost completely run by volunteers. 

The Toastmasters web site has a web page with links to documents about celebrating the Anniversary.

Joining a Toastmasters club can be a useful way to improve your public speaking skills via practice in a relatively nonthreatening environment (an audience of less than 30 people). In a blog post on January 1st I discussed how to choose a club.

Toastmasters began as a men-only organization and did not admit women for almost five decades. Their Anniversary letter says:

“In 1973, the Board of Directors made a decision that profoundly impacted the growth and development of Toastmasters: Membership was opened to women. Before this decision, women attended meetings as guests of friends or spouses, but could not participate as members. Instead, they could join the International Toastmistress organization, chartered in 1938, or seek training in college speech courses and seminars.

Since 1973, five women have served in the role of Toastmasters International President, and countless women have served as mentors, club officers and district leaders, and have participated in speech contests. The decision to open membership to women was perhaps the most important and valuable one ever made by the organization.”

That letter puts a positive spin on some historical details that can be found only in District newsletters. An article in the April 2005 District 78 newsletter said on page 2:

“1938: The Toastmasters organization helped to establish International Toastmistress Clubs, Inc. By 1966, a study was conducted at the board level, and Clubs were given permission to form ladies auxiliaries. As you can imagine, this would never do. In fact, some wily clubs encouraged women to join by listing their initials and surname, or give false names, on the member application form.

1973: At the International Convention in Houston, Texas, Clubs were permitted the option of opening membership to women. In 1978, Clubs were no longer allowed to organize along gender lines.

1985: First woman is elected International President: Helen Blanchard.”

Another article in the Aug 2013 District 45 newsletter (page 6) added:

“In 1971, a motion was put forth at the business meeting at the Toastmasters International convention to allow women to become members. The motion was defeated. Meanwhile, the US Federal Government said they would not support clubs meeting in their facilities that did not allow women to join. This had the potential to seriously affect Toastmasters, as there were many clubs meeting in federal government facilities. In 1973, the motion was made again and this time it was carried.”

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