History of Kiwanis

The organization originated in August 1914 in Detroit, Michigan from a conversation between Allen S. Browne and Joseph G. Prance. Browne’s idea was to solicit business and professional men asking them if they would be interested in organizing a fraternal organization with a health benefit feature. Browne was compensated five dollars per new member that joined for his operating budget. Browne and Prance set out and recruited enough members to apply to the state for a not for profit status. The state approved the application on January 21, 1915, and the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers were formed. The name was changed to Kiwanis a year later. The Kiwanis Club of Detroit is the original local club in Kiwanis.[15] By 1927 the organization had more than 100,000 members.[16]

Kiwanis became international with the organization of the Kiwanis club of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1916. Kiwanis limited its membership to the United States and Canada until 1962, when worldwide expansion was approved. Since then, Kiwanis has spread to all inhabited continents of the globe.[17]

The original purpose of Kiwanis was to exchange business between members and to serve the poor. The debate as to whether to focus on networking or service was resolved in 1919, when Kiwanis adopted a service-focused mission. In 1924, the Objects of Kiwanis were adopted (see above) and remain unchanged today.

Each year, clubs sponsor nearly 150,000 service projects, complete more than 18.5 million hours in volunteer service and raise more than $100 million. As a global project in coordination with UNICEF, members and clubs contributed more than $80 million toward the global elimination of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Beginning in 2010 Kiwanis International joined with UNICEF to launch a new worldwide health initiative, The Eliminate Project, dedicated to wiping out maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), which kills more than 100,000 babies worldwide each year.[18][19]US Representative Martha Roby (center) with Kiwanis members in Ozark, Alabama

Until 1987 the organization accepted only men as members. By action of the International Convention in 1987, the rules were changed to admit women as well.[20] Women constitute about 26% of total members.[4] At the 2013 International Convention, Sue Petrisin was elected as the organization’s first female international vice president. Petrisin was installed as Kiwanis International President in 2015, the year of the organization’s 100th anniversary.[21] She is the first female to lead any major member service organization.