The history of the Dublin Rotary Club is also the history of Dublin itself. The Club archives contain photographs and documents that illustrate the economic and social struggles that residents of Dublin and Laurens County faced in the first half of the twentieth century.From the crisis of business credibility during the Great Depression, through the economic and social sacrifices demanded by the Second World War, into a period of prosperity and service, we witness the progress not only of a club, but also of a community.

The Dublin Rotary Club was chartered in January 1939, some twenty years after Rotary District officers first made an organizational effort in Dublin. The early failures to establish a club arose primarily from Dublin’s poor business climate during the late twenties and the Great Depression years. A Rotarian out of Macon, Georgia provided a gloomy assessment of conditions in Dublin in 1928:

I cannot recommend that a Rotary Club be placed here. One civic club has already given up its charter, another is slowly dying and the third is only fairly active . . . [many] are already skeptical of the success of such clubs. Dublin has had many financial reverses in the past few years.

Survey by Rotarian Roy Neal of Macon, Georgia to Governor Burt Arnold, October 4, 1928.

Cotton was at the heart of the economic distress. A crop failure in 1921, followed by a long slump in cotton prices, led to a depreciation in property values. These properties, in turn, provided banks with insubstantial collateral on substantial loans, leading to numerous bank failures in Dublin.In fact, in the decade between 1920 and 1930, Laurens County lost seven banks and almost twenty percent of its population, dropping from a high of over 39,000 residents in 1920 to fewer than 33,000 residents in 1930.

The failure of Dublin’s main economic engines, banks and cotton crops, negatively affected the potential for rooting a new civic club in Dublin. Not surprisingly, a 1930 effort to set up a Rotary Club in Dublin was discontinued for exactly these reasons:

The entire community has been hard hit for the past several years. Too much speculation in business and trying to operate on borrowed capital, has caused seven bank failures. The community is badly torn and confidence is very much shaken in the men who were their leaders. This condition is very serious and for the time being, the only thing we can do is to patiently wait and work for the best.

Reverand L.A. Harrell to Governor John Casto.


"The Lions Club’s Loss is Rotary’s Gain"


In addition to the poor business climate, Rotary also had to overcome the local dominance of the Lions Club, which had been established in Dublin in 1924. Citing dissatisfaction among Lions members because of “mixing in local affairs and politics” and an over-abundance of lawyers, Rotary set its sights on poaching prominent members from the Lions Club. Survey by Rotarian J.T. McGehee, Oct. 4, 1929, Survey by Rotary President Kirven, Oct. 1, 1935. Each year, Rotary was able to list the names of several prospective members, but organizational meetings never met the minimum required for a Rotary Charter.

Despite Dublin’s difficult economic and social conditions, Rotary persevered in its efforts to establish a local club. From 1918 through 1938, various Rotarians from around the state and the southeast continued to make surveying and recruiting in hopes of establishing a Dublin Club.


"From Whitaker’s Front Porch to a Turkey and Cherry Pie Banquet"

Ironically, after the twenty years of hard work by outside Rotary clubs, the Dublin club’s formation occurred in merely two days. In November 1938, Mr. L.A. Whitlock, General Manager of Dublin’s Sash and Door Company, expressed a desire to form a local Rotary Club with some of his business acquaintances. Within two weeks of learning of this desire, Rotary sent an official, District Governor Porter W. Carswell, to Dublin to meet with Whitlock. After Whitlock returned from an afternoon of hunting, and called over several friends, Mr. Carswell spent two hours on Whitlock’s porch discussing Rotary. Apparently impressed with the discussion, the next day, Whitlock and Porter walked the town signing up new members.Thus, the Dublin Rotary Club was born.

The Club’s official organization occurred on December 8, 1938, and on January 19, 1939, President Carswell led sixteen new members through Charter Presentation Exercises, during a banquet held at the Womans Club House in Dublin.Presidents of area Rotary Clubs, including the Macon, Milledgeville, Cochran, and Eastman clubs, attended the dinner as guests of honor, enjoying, along with the charter members’, their wives, and guests, the banquet feast of turkey, dressing, peas, and cherry pie.


“The Wealthiest and Most Prominent Men”


The new membership was described as “the wealthiest and most prominent men in the community.” Practically all of the members had previously been associated with one of the other local civic clubs, but had themselves sought out a Rotary commission.These charter members represented all aspects of the town’s business life, including, in accordance with Rotary’s classification system, a farmer, a cotton marketer, a physician, a lawyer, a retailer, a manufacturer, an educator, a banker, and a real estate agent.

The Rotary Club’s eventual longevity and success in Dublin may in no small measure be attributed to the town’s early, long resistance to Rotary. Had the club been founded during the difficult economic times and bitter social period of the 1920's and early 1930's, perhaps the club would have foundered and failed, as did other civic groups of that era. The organization of the Dublin club occurred, in contrast, as a result of the sincere and strong desire of local business people to bring Rotary into Dublin during a time when the town was on the verge of an economic and social renaissance.

“Muddling Through” the Early Years with Good Singing"

The Dublin Rotary Club’s early years were shaky, to say the least. Governor Porter, in particular, was displeased with the club’s night-time meetings. Other clubs in Georgia met during lunch, but local members seemed intent on enjoying an evening meal together, and perhaps playing a game of cards afterwards. As the 1939 report of Governor Ashworth commented, “This club has just muddled through thus far and really does not know what it is all about yet, but they do have the inclination to learn.” By 1940, the situation had not improved, with the Governor commenting that members “haven’t the faintest idea what it’s all about.”

While emphasis on Rotary ideals may have been lacking, at least the singing was good. For several years, District Governors remarked that the fellowship in the Dublin club was excellent, the quarters (at the Fred Roberts hotel in downtown Dublin) “splendid,” and the singing good. In its early years, the club enjoyed a low average age, and a reputation for its poker games, rounded out by drinking, singing, and comraderie.

Perhaps Governor Irvine Ingram summed up the club’s early years the best when he said in 1945 that, as one of Georgia’s two “supper clubs,” he held Dublin not in high favor, but “The club continues to live and perhaps is meeting the needs of its members.”

"Returning Vets Establish Discipline"

The return of veterans in 1946 seemed to have had an elevating effect on the club. A new sense of seriousness about Rotary appears in club documents around this time. For example, in 1946, the Dublin club printed its first bulletin and began making contributions to the local Boy Scouts. Service committees began functioning, sponsoring such events as assistance with the Dublin municipal swimming pool, rural-urban activities, and youth service. During this time, the Club began to adhere more rigorously to the Rotary classification system, and under prodding from a District Governor, attempted to “weed out the poor Rotarians,” especially those who had chronic attendance problems. By 1950, the only remaining major issue with the Dublin Rotary club was its night-time meetings. To District Governors, night meetings created an atmosphere more appropriate to a country club than a civic club. Finally bowing under this pressure, in 1950, the Club changed its meeting time to 1 p.m. This move was immediately followed by a calamitous drop in membership, from fifty members to around thirty. The next two years were spent rebuilding the club in a closer image to the Rotary ideal.

“A Splendid, Progressive, and Aggressive Spirit”

By 1951, the club was back on track. Under President Don Johnston, the club established a Student Loan Fund, which was awarded to a student of “ambition and ability” who needed funds to complete college. Attendance issues were addressed with encouragement to make up meetings in Milledgeville. The District Governor commented, “In my opinion, this club will develop into one of the outstanding clubs of the district.” During the 1950's the club began a series of community service projects and emphasized adherence to the higher ideals of Rotary. Meetings included two minute facts about Rotary and its worldwide missions. Beginning in 1952, the Club began an international effort, sponsoring a foreign student to visit in Dublin, staying not in a hotel, but in members’ homes. Indeed, the Club committees covered the whole gamut of civic, social, and educational involvement. Outsiders commented that the club was “one of the best” with a “splendid, progressive, and aggressive spirit.”
The Dublin club’s growth and progressivity mirrored that of the community it drew from and gave back to. The 1950's and 1960's were a dynamic time for Dublin, with greater economic development, increasing population, and growing social life. The Club fed this progressive spirit, and was in turn enriched by it.