The First Rotary Club Project: Public Toilets

By Sammy Ginsberg

As you may or may not know, the first ever community service project by the Rotary Club (which was the World’s first Service Club) was the construction of public toilets in Chicago in 1907. 

Chicago’s first public comfort station (what a term! haha)  was established on the northeastern corner of Washington and LaSalle streets. This was done in order to improve sanitation in the city, as well as, predictably and importantly to promote businesses! 

At this time, there were no public restrooms. Thus, if you were out shopping and needed to pee, it was straight home you went! The members of the Rotary Club surmised very accurately that if people – especially women – could go to the restroom while shopping, they could stay out longer and spend more money. 

This charitable act, which took over two years of planning, raised Rotary to the rank of a civic organization in Chicago. The head of the Y.M.C.A. expressed the prevailing sentiment when he said, “The Rotary Club of Chicago has now shown reason for its existence.”

I can hear my Dad in my head saying, businesses are important! They are a tool we use to organize our contributions and take care of our citizens and their needs. I am all for ethical corporations made with love, not corporations based on greed where the man at the top makes 300% more than their typical employee (Economic Policy Institute, 2015). I will imagine that all the shops were independent businesses with loving stories, and then – yes! Love this!

From my position in society, it’s really hard to see the love and the ethics in corporate structure, but either way — building toilets and contributing to your society are vital for our society to thrive. I am thankful for the work that Rotary has done, and continues to do! 

And I, too, dream of toilets like Virginia C. Li, “small steps today, a better world tomorrow.”

This piece is from The Feminist Toilet #1. To go back and read more, click here.

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