Wolfgang Ziegler

Amusing deliberations on Atlanta, business and the role of Service Clubs

In the renowned German daily “Die Welt”, journalist Katja Ridderbusch contributed an amusing article about the business behaviour in private clubs in Atlanta. The Rotary Club of Atlanta is also mentioned, and since we are interested in the club life of other clubs from our own beginning on, here a few of its contents in selection.

According to this Atlanta-based journalist this city has always preferred eating to morals, and business came before education and religion. When a small settlement deep in the south was chosen for a railway terminal, the settlers firstly opened a tavern. The farrier and a grocery in 1835 were followed by a church and a school ten years later.

Ms Bitterbrush continues:

“Today Atlanta is a city, where money – and a lot of it – is at home. Business and politics are working hand in hand, with a clear preference for business. Business is contrived mostly in private clubs.”

Like in the early Rotary clubs, we may add. One of these clubs, the Piedmont Driving Club, was immortalized by Tom Wolfe in his famous Atlanta novel “A Man in Full”. There he states: “The Driving Club was the inner sanctum, the true fortress of the white establishment of Atlanta.”

The Piedmont Driving Club didn’t answer Ridderbusch’s call possibly due to her gender. Hence, she could not find out, when the club changed his statutes, where Afro-Americans, Jews and women were barred from being members – a little different from Rotary, where the discrimination was against gender only. As another famous club she mentions the Commerce Club which opened his doors for women before Rotary in the seventies, but the barroom in the 18th floor was forbidden territory for women a lot longer. Though in Georgia on Sundays no liquor was sold or served, the private clubs made their own rules. They drank Scotch and had slot machines and separate chambers – probably an exception to the “no women rule”.


Returning to Tom Wolfe Ms Ridderbusch quotes his expression “The Atlanta Way” for putting the value of a favourable deal above any other aspect. When Wolfe published his “A Man in Full” in 1998, the eccentric author was invited by the Rotary Club of Atlanta – and cancelled a few days before the meeting. Eventually, the journalist muses, the dignitaries must have read his book and found out, that they and their honourable friends were the main characters in his very wicked satire – possibly not unlike Sinclair Lewis’ “Babbit”. (Rotary critics)

Notes by Wolfgang Ziegler:

I have read both Sinclair Lewis’s book “Babbit” and Tom Wolfe’s book “A Man in Full”. Though I’m in no way an expert in literature, I cannot find in “Babbit” anything exclusively typical for the American society, let alone Rotary. In my opinion, the story of “A Man in Full” could be placed in any other (big) city. Moreover, what happens in the Atlanta story is mostly against everything Rotary stands for. Be that as it may, to the best of my knowledge the word “Rotary” doesn’t appear in any of the books. Though Lewis’ book the “Booster Club” is often considered standing for “Rotary Club”. Though “Booster Club” was originally an option for the name of our club, I doubt if Lewis was aware of this fact.

By RGHF members Matthias Schütt and Wolfgang Ziegler, Germany