In 1973 Toastmasters International recognised the fundamental right of women to participate freely in, and contribute to the Toastmasters organisation. This also acknowledged that for several years previously women had been joining Toastmasters clubs, as men.
Helen Blanchard, who would become the first woman International President, first joined in 1970. Her club, in a Table Topics session, selected the name Homer for her. This experience was repeated many times, including here in Australia.
On Friday, 21 February 2014, Area 22 on the Sunshine Coast hosted a dinner in celebration of this momentous development in the ongoing evolution of Toastmasters, from a single, men-only club meeting in the YMCA in Southern California to a world-wide organisation unencumbered by restrictions on gender, race, creed or politics.
Fifty Toastmasters and guests gathered in the Black Swan Room of the Maroochy Surf Club to share a meal and fellowship. District Governor Marilyn Freeman DTM attended and delivered the keynote address, on the theme of courageous leadership: the courage of those pioneering women toastmasters who blazed the trail for all who came after, the courage of the clubs which admitted women prior to 1973 and the courage of the Toastmasters leadership, in taking the decision to change fifty years of tradition at a time when society was still grappling with recognition of women’s rightful place. Marilyn called on all of us to show courageous leadership today and into the future.
Central Division Governor Marjory Hansen ACG ALB gave a moving and personal speech about women striving to attain their right to be free, independent and respected in today’s world. Her story resonated with many of the audience.
The main entertainment of the evening was a debate on the proposition “it’s a man’s world.” The team of Kimberley James, Lorraine Lehmann and Tracey Head took the affirmative while Simon Rolfe, Gary Kuss and Brian Duckworth argued the negative. Both teams were very entertaining and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the debate. The question was adjudicated by acclamation which unsurprisingly gave it to the affirmative.
Toastmasters from areas 22, 4 and 16 attended as well as two members who travelled from the north of Brisbane. It was a great night of fellowship and celebration, not just of women in Toastmasters but of Toastmasters itself.