Lions Clubs International History

Lions Clubs International began as the dream of Chicago insurance man Melvin Jones. He believed that local business clubs should expand their horizons from purely professional concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large.

Jones’ own group, the Business Circle of Chicago, agreed. After contacting similar groups around the country, an organizational meeting was held on June 7, 1917, at the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago. The new group took the name of one of the groups invited, the “Association of Lions Clubs,” and a national convention was held in Dallas, Texas, USA in October of that year. Thirty-six delegates representing 22 clubs from nine states were in attendance. The convention began to define what the association was to become. A constitution, by-laws, objects and code of ethics were approved. Among the official objects adopted in these early years was one that read, “No club shall hold out the financial betterment of its members as its object.” The object has remained one of the association’s main tenets ever since.

Just three years after its formation, the organization became international when the first club in Windsor, Ontario, Canada was established in 1920. Clubs were later organized in Mexico, China and Cuba. By 1927, membership stood at 60,000 in 1,183 clubs.

In 1935, Panama became home to the first Central American club; the first club in South America was organized in Colombia the following year. Sweden, then France, brought Europe into the association in 1948. Japan had clubs by 1952, and the so-called “Eastern Bloc” was unblocked in 1989 with the formation of clubs in Hungary, Poland and Estonia. In 1990, a club was chartered in Moscow and today over 100 Lions clubs are demonstrating the value of service in countries once closed to voluntary action.

Perhaps the single event having the greatest impact on the association’s service commitment occurred in 1925 when Helen Keller addressed the Lions at the international convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, USA. It was there that she challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

In 1990 Lions launched their most aggressive sight preservation effort to date, SightFirst.  The more than US$140 million-plus program strives to rid the world of preventable and reversible blindness by closing the gap between existing health care services and those that remain desperately needed.

Broadening its role in international understanding, the association helped the United Nations form the Non-Governmental Organizations section in 1945, and continues to hold consultative status today. Each year, during the Lions Day with the United Nations ceremonies, an award is presented to the grand prize winner of the Lions International Peace Poster Contest, itself a significant program that draws over 350,000 entries annually.

Another significant event in the association’s history occurred in 1987, when Lions Clubs International became the first major service club organization to admit women as members.

Since those first years, the association has grown to include nearly 1.4 million men and women in more than 44,000 clubs located in 189 countries and geographical areas.

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UPDATED Oct 17, 2017