Stuart Morrow


Stuart Morrow, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin emigrated in 1885 to California. He became an early member of the second Rotary club. San Francisco #2 during its first year. Following the dissolution of his business there, he decided to return to his family in Ireland.

One of the early members of the San Francisco Club was William Stuart Morrow who joined the club in 1908. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Morrow attended Trinity College, Dublin, where one of his fellow undergraduates was the writer Oscar Wilde. He went on to become the youngest ever Justice of the Peace at that time in Britain, but emigrated to the USA, finally settling in California in 1885.

Two years after becoming a Rotarian (Classification: Law and Collections[1]), Stuart Morrow decided to move back to Britain, initially to Dublin.

Morrow was a lonely man, and was clearly influenced by the West Coast Rotary concept of ‘Boosting’ that was responsible for initial Rotary growth and much regretted by the founder of the movement in Chicago. These first Rotary Clubs were mainly an association of businessmen giving trade to each other as well as enjoying mutual friendship, and Morrow saw this, not only as an opportunity for others but also as an opportunity for himself. Morrow had never actually met Paul Harris and it seems that his drive came from the reality of boosting which outweighed the ethic of service at a time when Rotary’s direction (if any) was not yet decided.[2] The ‘Booster’ club ethos was much maligned by early critics of Rotary.

Morrow possibly adapted his approach to Rotary recruitment from the so-called ‘Collecting Agent’, Herbert Quick in Los Angeles, who sold memberships to the unofficial National Rotary Club of Los Angeles. As one Rotary historian put it, “If Rotary’s burgeoning Constitution would have allowed it, Quick would have been lynched”.[3]

David Shelley Nicholl’s entertaining analysis of the Rotary Movement ‘The Golden Wheel’ dedicates a whole chapter to Morrow entitled ‘The Medicine Man’ and begins with a delicious little poem that manipulates Arthur Sheldon’s famous Rotary motto:-
In serving others I can profit most, “I am a friend to man”; that is my boast.[4]

Morrow returned penniless to his native Ireland after a business failure. On his arrival in Dublin, he began discussions with his brother-in-law, Bill McConnell and began interesting local businessmen in the idea of forming a Rotary Club. On February 11, 1911, the Dublin Club was formed with Morrow as organizing secretary with a salary of 9 guineas. Within a couple of months, however, he had moved North to start a similar enterprise in Belfast, the inaugural meeting being held there on July 24, 1911 where he was given an office, secretary and telephone. The Belfast Club grew to 124 members by January 1912. Neither of these developments was known to Paul Harris or to the National Association of Rotary Clubs in America, and as a result neither club received an official charter at the time of their foundation. (see ‘Chartering’) When Harris and Ches Perry finally heard about these clubs, they contacted Morrow and authorized him to continue his work. In his fast-paced movement around the British Isles, his next two clubs, in 1912, were Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the following year, Liverpool and Birmingham, making two in Ireland, two in Scotland and finally two in England.

Meanwhile, two official representatives of Rotary, Arthur Sheldon and his London representative E. Sayer Smith had formed clubs in London and Manchester, bringing the total in Britain to eight, six of which had been started through the work of Stuart Morrow.

As part of his work in starting new clubs and introducing new members to existing clubs, Morrow retained a proportion of either the entrance or membership fee. Effectively, as James Walsh points out, he became “a paid organizer”. The Liverpool Club records that Morrow was paid a guinea a week as organizing secretary and a further guinea for every new member he introduced. He would organize the Liverpool Club in a record fortnight. He was also taken on by the London Club to recruit new members at a pound a time; for this he was nicknamed ‘Old Pound a Nob’. Morrow successfully recruited for the London Rotary club and also set up Rotary’s London Bureau in The Strand for visiting Rotarians.

Morrow’s new Rotary Clubs eventually fell out with their emissary and abandoned “Morotary”[5] to embrace the purity of Harris’s message- and saved themselves a few guineas in the process! Edinburgh, like other clubs, sent Morrow packing with a 10 guineas ‘golden handshake’ in “appreciation” for his work. Most clubs felt uneasy with Morrow’s stunts and attitude. For example, the first British clubs had real problems with calling other members by their first name.

Stuart Morrow should not be disregarded as some kind of carpetbagger. His travels had to be financed and he never hid his need to recover some of his expenses. On leaving Glasgow, he told his audience in a talk entitled ‘The Aims of Rotary other than commercial’, “It is distinctly within the province of a Rotary Club to take notice of dishonorable business methods, and non-ethical standards, with a view to their elimination”. Perry and Harris had this talk printed in ‘The Rotarian’.

Resolution 15 of the Rotary Convention in Houston, Texas 1914 wished to “express the appreciation of the International Association of Rotary Clubs to Mr. W Stuart Morrow for his work in organizing Rotary Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland”..
As with the other Morrow Clubs, some of his activities were not to the liking of the London Club and in 1914 he returned to the United States. There, he is credited with founding the Soroptimists movement with the creation of their first club in Oakland in 1921. He died in California aged 87.

Although a club in Winnipeg had been opened in November 1910, just 3 months before Dublin, it was Stuart Morrow, who by his work in Britain, had clearly spread the idea of Rotary beyond the boundaries of North America Thus, at the Convention of 1912, a new name was decided upon, ‘The International Association of Rotary Clubs’. We could now say that Stuart Morrow was the man who made Rotary International.

[1] Morrow’s classification according to The San Francisco Club. In the British Isles, Morrow’s classification was Collecting Agent
[2] Rotary’s Code of Ethics was not adopted till 1915 along with a new standard club constitution and by-laws
[3] David Shelley Nicholl in The Golden Wheel, 1984
[4] The Rubaiyat of A-ro Tarian 1913. This poem is clearly derived from ‘He Profits Most Who Serves Best’ This phrase, incidentally, has never been liked in Britain and Ireland. Perhaps, a legacy of their dealings with Morrow?
[5] Morotary: This was the telegraphic address that Morrow used and advertised in the Rotary magazine in Britain.

William J Mountain, ‘ The Rotary Club of San Francisco 1908-40 ‘
CR Hewitt, ‘Towards by Neighbour’
James P Walsh ‘The First Rotarian’
Roger Levy ‘Rotary International in Graet Britain and Ireland’
‘The University of Chicago, ‘Rotary? A University Group Looks at the Rotary Club of Chicago’


Roger Levy records a speech made by Morrow in Glasgow “The two essential features of a Rotary Club are: first, that the membership should be confined to one representative of each profession or business: and, second, that the primary object of the club should be the promotion of the business interests of the members.”
After asking those members who had earned business they would not have attained “but for” joining the Club to put up their hands – almost all did – Morrow went on. “That is sufficient proof that the Glasgow Rotary Club is successfully carrying out its primary object”.

Basil Lewis & Cal Thomson

Also see Morrow’s letter, including in Paul Harris’ 1912 Annual report

The Rotary Club of San Francisco records in “Seventy-Five Years in San Francisco” “With these successes, Rotarians back in the United States began making plans to send morrow to Australia and New Zealand to carry on the good work. Unfortunately, as club historian Mountin (William J.) reveals, Morrow lost the support of his fellow clubmen when they discovered that ‘he was making his living by selling memberships for a guinea apiece.'”

The Rotary Club of Chicago in their book “The Golden Strand” note Paul’s support of Morrow’s work with no mention of the controversy.

A history of District 1160

The idea of Rotary was brought to Ireland by William Stuart Morrow, who returned from the United States to his native land in 1911 – just six years after the first Rotary meeting in Chicago in 1905. In conjunction with his brother-in-law, William A. McConnell, Morrow formed the Dublin Club (22nd February, 1911), after which he moved north where he brought into being the Club of Belfast (24th July, 1911)