Service Clubs in American Society: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions

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University of Illinois Press, 1993 - Social Science - 226 pages
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To media representatives, they're soup clubs. To young professionals new to a community or interested in making the right contacts, they may represent a chance to get ahead. To local charities, they're a source of funds. But groups such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs, according to Jeffrey Charles, have over time been a mirror reflecting changes within the American middle class. In this first full-length study of men's service clubs, Charles argues that they have played a crucial role in helping business and professional men adapt to corporate development and community change. Placing the clubs in the context of twentieth-century middle-class culture, Charles maintains that they represented the response of locally oriented, traditional middle-class men to societal changes. The groups emerged at a time when service was becoming both a middle-class and a business ideal. As voluntary associations, they represented a shift in organizing rationale, from fraternalism to service. The clubs and their ideology of service were welcome as a unifying force at a time when small cities and towns were beset by economic and population pressures. The clubs originally served to strengthen the community via local business activism, Charles states, but they also were agents for change that altered community traditions and helped place local practices in line with national trends. A chief target in the 1920s of cultural critics led by Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken, the clubs later benefited from the conservative response to the New Deal and the cold war. Though they suffered during the turbulent 1960s, these clubs continued building international organizations that now claim memberships in themillions.

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