On May 19, 1921 Dundee Rotary Club was officially formed at the Queens Hotel with 23 members on board.
As the club turns 100 we explore the history of Dundee Rotary Club from their initial funding to help boys whose fathers had died in World War One to the following century of supporting the local community which continues to this day with the club donating £100,000 to good causes to celebrate their anniversary.
The creation of a Dundee Rotary
The first ever rotary club meeting was held in Chicago in February 1905 in room 711 of the Unity Building with just four men including club founder Paul Harris.
The Chicago Rotary Club stood alone until 1908 when other clubs began to appear through the United States and in 1910 the first club outside the US was formed in Canada.
Rotary reached Ireland and England in 1911 before travelling up to Scotland the following year with the formation of clubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Dundee’s foster club Perth was formed in 1917.
In 1920 the Rotary Club of Edinburgh made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a club in Dundee but a year later Perth Rotarians took matters into their own hands.
On April 21 1921 the Perth club arranged a meeting in the Queens Hotel in Dundee with Lord Provost Spencer taking chair.
A resolution was successfully moved that a rotary club would be formed in Dundee, with a founding membership of 23 gentlemen.
A further list was drawn up of potential members who were invited to lunch with the founders before the first official meeting was held at the Queen’s Hotel when the club became a fully constituted organisation on May 19 1921.
President C. H. Marshall gave his first address at the following week’s meeting.
The following few months saw the appointment of a membership committee and by the end of January 1922 the membership had risen to 58 men.
The first club’s first outing was to the Panmure Hotel in Edzell with tickets costing 15 shillings however it was decided there would be no prizes for the golf or bowls played.
The first 20 years
During the years’ following its creation the club added a variety of additional committees including Boys’ Welfare, Conventions and Social Service.
The social aspect of the Rotary was provided for by an Entertainment Committee who held the first Ladies Night in March 1924.
One of the earliest community projects undertaken was to organise financial help for boys in need, particularly those whose fathers had perished in WW1.
The community work would soon extend to include picnics for children with disabilities in the area and help for children in Dundee Orphanage.
During the first decade of Dundee Rotary the club was addressed by many distinguished speakers including legendary Scottish singer and comedian Sir Harry Lauder.
He himself was a Rotarian and so was able to make some time for the group when he was appearing at the Kings Theatre in July 1924.
In the early years the meetings were held in Ingram’s Restaurant with proprietor T J Ingram one of the club’s members. In January 1926 the club seemingly tightened the purse strings, or belt buckles, as it was agreed to cut out soup, cheese and biscuits in order to keep the cost of lunch at two shillings and sixpence.
By 1937 the club had 110 members, however the first clouds of war were looming and the club purchased booklets on air-raid precautions for members. By 1939 Rotarians were being excused attendance if called to National Service and the club agreed to entertain and offer hospitality to Rotary members or their sons who were based in military bases in and around the city.
During the war years
Despite obvious difficulties during WW2 the community work of the Dundee Rotary continued.
One of the most notable projects was the hospitality given to service personnel in and around the city.
Rotarians opened their homes at weekends to servicemen from a number of bases including the radar post at Douglasfield and the RAF training base at Tealing.
The dinner invitations would have been far from an easy task for club members due to rationing of food however they made it work with many of the servicemen continuing to correspond with their hosts after leaving the area and some returned to spend their leave in Dundee.
The club would also organise dances each month at the Marryat Hall. The dances were funded by the club’s members and at first a full meal was provided to attendees. Those full meals soon became finger foods of sandwiches and cakes though as cutlery would continually disappear, presumably to replace losses in service kits.
Over the war years 73 dances were organised with a former Navy man stating: “There was not a Rotary Club in the country that had done so much for servicemen”.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
Christmas 1952 was the year of many firsts, it would be the first time the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II would lead a Christmas Day speech and it would also be the first time a Christmas tree would adorn Dundee’s City Square – all thanks to the Dundee Rotary Club.
Councillor and past-president of the Rotary Club James Hardie suggested having a tree in City Square at a meeting of the Inner Wheel Club on February 22 1952.
During the meeting, while comparing celebrations with Americans, James would call Brits “drab” and said that a tree would create an “atmosphere” in the city centre.
The Rotary Club applied to the council for permission to erect a tree in City Square for a fortnight at the end of December as well as playing records to the Christmas crowds.
The Magistrates agreed, so long as they obey the police if they told them to turn it down and performances were to finish before 10.30 pm. In a minute of the Works Committee meeting it was agreed that the tree would be 30ft tall.
When the tree was erected on December 20 it stood at 42ft tall, quite a bit larger than the agreed height. The 32 year old tree was sourced from the Duke of Atholl’s estate.
The 300 lights on the tree were switched on by Mrs W K Mearns, wife of the Dundee Rotary Club president on December 22 with the crowd being entertained with tunes played on the Caird Hall organ by Mr James Hinchcliffe and piped out into City Square.
For the next 10 days locals would be entertained by choirs, dancers and bands despite wet weather with an estimated 10,000 people squeezing into the square and high street for the bells on New Years Eve.
Throwing a good party
Dundee Rotary Club have proven their ability to host a good night of entertainment since their conception and continue to entertain the local community to the present day.
In August 1966 the Queen Mother visited Dundee to officially open the Tay Road Bridge. The Rotary Club was brought on board with the town council to be in charge of entertaining the official guests that evening including civic heads from the USA, France, Canada and Australia at the Royal Hotel.
In 1986 the inaugural Sportsman’s Dinner was a sell-out from the word go. Held at the Angus Hotel on September 25 the ticket sales alone brought in £4000 with a similar amount coming from a raffle and auction on the night which was attended by Bobby Charlton.
In more recent years the club have organised the annual Oktoberfest. Starting in 2011, the beer and music festival managed to raise £135,000 for good causes in the city and surrounding area before being brought to an end in 2019.
They have also came up with unique ways of raising funds for charities with one of the most unusual taking place in recent years – a teddy bear parachute jump.
The Rotary Club organised for more than 120 parachute-clad teddy bears to be launched from the window of Mains Castle in August 2019 with people sponsoring individual teddies to raise funds for impoverished youngsters in Zimbabwe.
Over the last 100 years the club has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds and provided practical help to the people of Dundee and beyond, all in keeping with the Rotary motto of Service Above Self.
That motto is continuing with the century of service celebrations with the club using a Centenary Fund of £100,000 to spend on good causes.
The projects each improve the lives of those within Dundee with particular focus on the prevention or relief of poverty, the advancement of education and the advancement of health.
Donations already given include a £24,000 scheme to provide tutoring support to pupils at four Dundee secondary schools, a £25,000 bursary scheme to pay the fees of post-graduate design students at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee for the next five years, the donation of £11,000 to a multi-morbidity medical research project at the University of Dundee aimed at detecting early signs of illness, and £5000 for musical instruments to primary pupils in the Douglas area of the city in the Big Noise scheme
In a joint venture with the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee, the club also disbursed £25,000 to 15 local charities during their virtual celebrations today.
President Clive Murray said: “Every 100th birthday is a very special occasion and the centennial of the Rotary Club of Dundee is no different.
“Our celebrations have been designed to ensure that we mark the anniversary in an appropriate way, while at the same time continuing to support local good causes and communities, as we have done throughout the years gone by.
“All of the many centenary projects we have ongoing are very special in their own right and are a fitting way to record this club’s long and proud service to the city.
“While it’s unfortunate that our 100th birthday party can’t take place other than virtually, the members will join together with great enthusiasm and enjoy a memorable birthday celebration that will be worthy of our club reaching this historic milestone.”