George Firican

Rotary Online Makeup Program

Meeting Date: 25 January 2013

Prepared By: George Firican

A Paul Harris Fellow was created to honor Paul Harris and to aid in fund raising.  A Paul Harris Fellow (PHF) is a much esteemed honor.  For details, please contact Marc Vertin. 


Dick, President


Paul P. Harris

Harris circa 1896


Paul Harris does not need an introduction as his vision, dedication and efforts founded the organization you are now part of. His creation, Rotary International has quite literally touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people in its global quest to make a difference. Yet few people, both inside and outside of Rotary know much about Paul Harris so please read his brief biography below.




Brief Biography

Harris as a student at the
University of Vermont
in Burlington, 1886

Paul Harris was born on April 19, 1868 in Racine, Wisconsin. At age 3, when his family fell on hard times, they moved to Vermont to live with Harris' paternal grandparents, Howard and Pamela.

He attended primary school in Wallingford and secondary school in Rutland. Afterwards he attended Black River Academy in Ludlow (briefly), the Vermont Military Academy and the University of Vermont (until December 1886). After a spring of studying with a private tutor his grandfather paid for he began studying at Princeton University in the fall of 1887, but unfortunately he only stayed there for one year do to the death of his dear grandfather.

After a year working for the Sheldon Marble Company and another working at the law firm of St. John, Stevenson, and Whisenand in Des Moines, Iowa, Harris attended the University of Iowa where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in June 1891.

For the next five years, he worked odd jobs for a newspaper as a salesman and a reporter, on fruit farms, as an actor and cowboy, and on cattle ships that traveled to Europe.

Harris's private office at the 
Law Offices of Harris, Dodds, 
and Brown in Chicago, 1909

In 1896, Harris settled in Chicago, where he opened a law practive in the central business district. In the summer of 1932, he even served as a delegate of the Chicago Bar Association to the International Congress of Comparative Law at The Hague.

Harris sought meaningful personal and spiritual relationships in addition to his professional achievements. He customarily attended religious services on Sundays but visited many different churches rather than aligning himself exclusively with one congregation. Later in his life, he said that his religious affiliations were, like himself, difficult to label.


Paul and Jean Harris 
on a 1927 trip to Veracruz, Mexico

He married Jean Thomson on July 2, 1910 and lived together in a house in Morgan Park where they continued to entertain friends from around the world and host meetings and reunions of the Rorary Club of Chicago.

Harris would settle in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, where he lived until his death in 1947.







After setting up his law practice in Chicago, Harris' initial goal was to create a club of professional and business men for friendship and fellowship. He proposed the idea to several business associates, and on 23 February 1905, they held what would later become known as the first Rotary club meeting.

"The thought persisted that I was experiencing only what had happened to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others in the great city … I was sure that there must be many other young men who had come from farms and small villages to establish themselves in Chicago ... Why not bring them together? If others were longing for fellowship as I was, something would come of it."
 -- Paul P. Harris, My Road to Rotary

Early on, Harris realized that Rotary needed a greater purpose. While Harris served as president of the Chicago Rotary Club in 1907, the club initiated its first public service project, the construction of public toilets in Chicago. This step transformed Rotary into the world's first Service Club.

The first four Rotarians: (from left) Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul P. Harris

Harris had great ambitions for the growth of Rotary, and very early in the organization's history new clubs were started, first on the west coast, and then all over the US and in Europe.

By the time of Harris' death at the age of seventy-nine, Rotary International had grown to more than 200,000 members in 75 countries.

Paul Harris speech at the 24th annual Rotary International Convention in 1933. It was aired around the world. 8:11 minutes


Interesting facts

  • Harris loved nature. In 1908, he joined a newly formed group that organized monthly Saturday afternoon walking trips through the forests, fields, hills, and valleys around the city. In 1911, the group became the Prairie Club, and Harris served as one of its directors.
  • Harris met his wife Jean during an outdoor excursion put together by the future Praire Club.
  • The Harrises named their house Comely Bank after the street in Edinburgh where Jean had lived as a child.
  • Harris' middle name was Percy and he had several younger siblings: Nina May, Guy Howard, Claude Howard, Reginald Clayton and an odler brother, Cecil.


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