The International Association of Lions Clubs began as the dream of a Chicago insurance man Melvin Jones, who wondered why local business clubs – he was an active member of one – could not expand their horizons from purely business concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large.
Jones’ ideal struck a chord within his own group, the Business Circle of Chicago, and they authorised him to explore his concept with similar organisations from around the United States. His efforts resulted in an Organisation Meeting at a local hotel on June 7, 1917.
The 12 men who gathered there overcame a natural sense of loyalty to their parent clubs, voted the “Association of Lions Clubs” into existence, and issued a call for a national convention to be held in Dallas, Texas, USA in October of the same year.
Thirty-six delegates representing 22 clubs from nine states heeded the call, approved the “Lions Clubs” designation, and elected Dr. William P. Woods of Indiana as their first President. Guiding force and founder, Melvin Jones was named acting Secretary. Thus began his association with Lionism that only ended with his death in 1961.
That first convention also began to define what Lionism was to become. A Constitution and Bye-Laws were adopted, the colors of purple and gold approved, and a start made on Lionism’s Objectives and Code of Ethics.
One of the objects was startling for an era that prided itself on mercenary individualism, and has remained one of the main tenets of Lionism ever since. “No Club,” it read, “shall hold out the financial betterment of its members as its object”. Community leaders soon began to organise clubs throughout the United States, and the association became “International” with the formation of the Lions Club of Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1920. Clubs were later organised in China, Mexico, and Cuba. By 1927, membership stood at 60,000 in 1,183 clubs.
In 1935, Panama became home to the first Central American club, with the first South American club being organised in Columbia the following year. Lionism reached Australia in 1947 and Europe in 1948, as clubs were chartered in Sweden, Switzerland, and France. In 1952, the first club was Chartered in Japan, and in 1956 in India.
The International Association of Lions Clubs is today the largest service club organisation in the world with over 1.4 million members in more than 43,300 clubs in 714 Districts covering 183 countries and geographic areas. Lions Clubs are not social clubs, although there are social benefits to membership. Lions Club members give their time, skills and resources to raise funds for charity giving both their communities and internationally.