History of Inner Wheel

In Britain, just after World War I, there was a marked divide between the well off and the downright poor and there was virtually no welfare or social services at all, so there was plenty of scope for voluntary work. And so it was that, on 15th November 1923 a group of ladies, much encouraged by their Rotarian husbands, called a meeting at Herriott’s Turkish Baths in Deansgate, Manchester, for the purpose of setting up a club on Rotary lines, and 27 ladies attended.

It was explained that the object of the club was twofold: firstly to foster friendship between the wives of Rotarians and, secondly, it was thought that being organised as a club, the opportunities for service would increase. A committee was set up to contact the wives who had not attended, and the chairman of this committee was Margarette Golding and the secretary/treasurer was Mabel Nixon.

By the time of the next meeting on 10 January 1924, held at the Social Club, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, funds had been raised and woollen garments knitted and sent to local hospitals. It was at this meeting that the name suggested by Margarette Golding The Inner Wheel Club of Manchester was adopted, thus cleverly incorporating the Rotary connection.

Within less than a year the membership had doubled and many successful projects had been undertaken, and news of this club’s achievements had spread, so that by 1927 five more clubs had been formed, one of which had previously been a ladies’ Rotary Club. The badge which was adopted was the Rotary wheel with a smaller cog inside it – the inner wheel which helps the big wheel turn. The 10th of January is now celebrated as Inner Wheel Day around the world.

A feeling gradually arose that there ought to be some sort of unification for existing clubs. The Rotary District 5 conference was about to be held in Llandudno, and its Executive Committee was sympathetic to the request that a ladies’ meeting be conducted during the conference, to consider the possibility of forming a corresponding Inner Wheel District. Margarette Golding was the speaker and the first Inner Wheel District, which corresponded with a Rotary District, was formed.

It was then the turn of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) to permit a ladies’ meeting during their Harrogate conference, and it was from this point that Inner Wheel became a national organisation. Called the Association of Inner Wheel Clubs, with a similar structure to Rotary, the main difference was that you had to be the wife of a Rotarian to qualify for membership. Today, regular meetings are held between the Inner Wheel Association President and the RIBI President and ladies can now join without having a Rotary connection.

As Rotary’s bounds had become international, so did Inner Wheel’s, and in many countries it was almost the only way in which a woman’s voice could be heard at all. International Inner Wheel (IIW) was formed in 1967, and today there are over 100,000 members worldwide, in 101 different countries, from Norway to Nigeria; from Uganda to the Ukraine. There are currently 760 clubs in Great Britain, with 29 districts and 19,237 members. It is now one of the largest women’s organisation in the world, and has representation at the United Nations.

It may come as a surprise to members that for the first 48 years of our existence we had no permanent office. In the early days, the founder honorary secretary, Mabel Nixon, worked from her home whilst her successor, Gladys Young, had the use of her husband’s business premises. Our headquarters is now at 51 Warwick Square in London is such a familiar address to members of Inner Wheel that it hard to understand how our predecessors managed.

Miss Elizabeth Eaton was the first salaried secretary and worked in rented accommodation, firstly at 1a Marylebone Road then afterwards at 43 Cadogan Square SW1 in part of the WVS Club. The next move was in 1955 to 19 Grosvenor Place SW1 and then two years later, accommodation in Rotary House, Portman Square was offered and accepted. When this building was sold to become an embassy, fourth floor rooms in a former private house at 89/91 Newman Streeet, W1, became the inadequate and inconvenient office for the next six long years. In 1967 the move was made to rented rooms within the Berners Hotel, W1. However there was no security of tenure and in June 1972 the hotel owners asked Inner Wheel to make other arrangements within six months. This happened at a time when the London property market was in a very unsettled state and at the beginning of a new Inner Wheel year. What a nightmare it must have been for the incoming President, Hylda Armstrong and her Executive Committee! Their courageous decision to recommend the purchase of the 97 years lease on 51 Warwick Square and the ensuing consequences are another story. But purchased it was and Inner Wheel moved into its new home under the supervision of Jane Dobson, who had worked at both Newman Street and at the Berners Hotel. From all over the country there now flooded in pieces of good furniture, fine china, glassware and domestic necessities. Many of these items were given in memory of past members such as the clock presented by D14 to mark the Presidency in 1946 of H H Coote. The Presidential Chair in the Board Room was a gift from D13 in memory of W A Shakerley who succeeded Margarette Golding as Association President in 1936. I am pleased to say that Margarette still looks down on proceedings from a large portrait in that same room. She would not recognise the technology in use in the adjoining offices but she would be familiar with the motivation of the Executive, the Association Committees, members of staff and the many volunteers who work long hours in order to keep our Inner Wheel turning smoothly.

To join Inner Wheel today you must be female, over 18 and meet one of the following criteria:

  • Women with a connection to Inner Wheel members/former Inner Wheel members
  • Women with a connection to Rotarians/former Rotarians
  • Women with similar ideals with the club’s consent

New Members Today

Where do you belong in the Inner Wheel family? As a new member, you probably haven’t yet looked at the bigger picture. You have just joined your Club and, hopefully, you are enjoying the experience of meeting like-minded ladies and entering into the pleasures of business meetings, coffee mornings and fund-raising activities. In time you will perhaps visit another Club during one of their Interclubs and perhaps try out a visit to a District meeting.

It will take time to assimilate all the various levels of Inner Wheel, and to understand exactly where your Club fits in and how important each level is to the other. One cannot survive without the other and every member is part of the whole.

Quite simple, the family tree is as easy as 1 – 2 – 3

1 – Your Club has anything from 12 – 40+ members and within that Club there is an elected President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Overseas Officer and Club Correspondent plus a few Committee Members. They meet once a month prior to your Club Meeting and put together an Agenda for things to discuss at your meeting. Apart from having to abide by Rules and Regulations laid down in the Inner Wheel Constitution, your Club makes its own decisions about what events to hold, where to meet and which charities it intends to support.

2 – Your District is made up of 10 Clubs.  These are (in alphabetical order): Barnstaple, Bideford, Braunton,  Dartmouth, Exmouth, Okehampton, Otter Valley,  Sidmouth,  Tiverton and Torquay.  From these 10 Clubs, ordinary members such as yourself are put forward and elected to become your District Executive and you can find out who these members are on the Committee page.  They carry out their roles in a similar fashion to your own Club Executive but on a slightly larger scale and keep the individual Clubs up-to-date with any new constitutional issues. Every year, some Clubs will hold an Interclub and invite all other Club members in District 17 to come and join them in fun and friendship, usually with lunch and a speaker, and generally have a good time getting to know the extended family that is District 17.  Interclub meetings will be posted in the News section and on the Interclub Meetings page.

3 – Your Association is made up of 29 Districts in GB & I and have an elected Executive Committee, again, from ordinary rank and file members who once upon a time started out just like you, as a member joining a Club for the first time.  Their roles are very similar to all other Executive Committee roles but, again, cover a much larger membership.  They are aided by 29 Members of Council which have been elected by each of our 29 Districts to represent them at Association.