Rotary’s Principal Motto: Service Above Self
The early history of Rotary was based on a group of people coming together to increase “Friendship and fellowship”. The members of the first Rotary club realized that fellowship and mutual self-interest were not enough to keep a group of busy professionals meeting each week. Paul Harris, as president of the club, realized that by undertaking efforts to improve the lives of others club members were more powerfully motivated.
In 1907, the club motto was changed to “Service Above self”. The club adopted a practical community service project — the installation of a public comfort station near city hall in downtown Chicago.
With the renewed focus of helping others in their communities, the Rotary concept gained popularity. An endowment was created to help fund projects and provide grants. A second club was formed in San Francisco, California, and three more clubs were founded the following year. By 1910 there were 16 clubs in the United States and the first convention was held in Chicago where the clubs organized themselves to form the National Association of Rotary Clubs. At that convention, a member of the Chicago club proposed a motto for the new organization, recognizing its commitment to the idea of service: “He Profits Most Who Serves His Fellows Best.”
The following year, another early leader spoke of the importance of serving others and promoted the idea that a club should be organized on the principle of “Service, Not Self.” The two sayings, modified to “He Profits Most Who Serves Best” and “Service Above Self,” were quickly embraced by all Rotarians and were officially designated as Rotary mottoes at the 1950 convention in Detroit, Michigan. In 1989, the Rotary International Council on Legislation established “Service Above Self” as the organization’s principal motto.
“Service Above Self” is more than the Rotary motto, it is a way of life that Rotarians all over the world live with and by.