Most Rotary clubs ring a bell to call a meeting to order or to adjourn a meeting. Both bells and gavels have a long association with Robert’s Rules of Order, the definitive manual of parliamentary procedure in North America. Early Rotary leaders adopted Robert’s Rules as a way to govern meetings.
The use of the Rotary bell has never been mandated The Rotarian of clubs using bells and this practice became more popular as the custom was promoted.
One of the earliest published stories about using a bell at a Rotary meeting is from a 1915 Ladies’ Night meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. A sign commanded attendants “sit down when the bell rings.” By 1919, the Kansas City club had acquired a large bell which they referred to as “the Gavel,” which was fashioned out of a horse-drawn streetcar gong and run with a large wooden mallet (made from the wood of a German bayonet).
In 1922, the Rotary Club of London presented a bell to the Rotary Club of New York City; the bell was a prize over a long-running attendance contest between the two clubs. In December 1923, a decorative bell was advertised in The Rotarian for use by clubs. Called the Rotary Bell No. 29, this bell was marketed for use at Rotary meetings, as “A unique table ornament, a sight prettier and infinitely more agreeable than the harsh gavel.”
Much of Rotary’s rich history informs today’s practices. Many traditions, while never officially mandated or sanctioned, are such a part of current Rotary culture that most Rotarians could not imagine their Rotary experience without these long-standing practices.
With this tradition in mind, Rotary International marked its centennial with five bells that traveled the world in 2003-2005. One bell traveled to the first 100 clubs to join Rotary International, while the others went to the first Rotary club formed in each country of four regions: Asia and the Pacific; Latin American and the Caribbean; Africa; and Europe and the Middle East. All five bells returned to Chicago to call the 2005 convention to order