The history of The Objects of Kiwanis

 

The six Objects of Kiwanis remain one of the enduring hallmarks of our organization.

In 1917, professional organizer Allen S. Browne created a motto and a creed for Kiwanis two years after he helped open the first club in Detroit, Michigan, USA. The motto was “Service Brings Its Own Reward.” 

The creed was a wordy document. But it began:

First — To realize that I am a business man, and wish no success that is not procured by giving the highest service at my command. 

Second — To do my best to elevate and improve the business in which I am engaged and so to conduct myself that others in the same line may find it profitable and well to do likewise.

And it ended with this statement: 

Twelfth — To realize that I live not for myself but for others.

Browne’s creed lasted only one year. Delegates at the 1918 Kiwanis International convention in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, approved a constitution designed to unite the rapidly growing organization. The constitution referred to a group of underlying principles as “Objects.”

Though concise and focused on the Golden Rule, these new principles didn’t satisfy the members who in 1923 called for a revision of the organization’s constitution. More than 800 pages of suggestions were submitted and considered. Included among those ideas were six statements drafted by New York Governor Lew Mitchell.

To understand what was behind the composition of those six statements, it’s important to remember what had been happening within the organization and within North American society at that time.

At the 1919 Kiwanis International convention in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, Kiwanians had purchased the organization from founder and organizer Allen S. Browne. At that point, members were compelled to shift their purpose from business networking and promotion to unselfish service. 

It was also during this time that the world emerged from a global war. Scandals had weakened public trust in businesses and governments. Horses and mules were disappearing from roads and farm fields, replaced by automobiles, trucks and tractors. North America’s urban populations were rising.

Memberships in fraternal lodges and clubs were booming. Kiwanis needed to define its purpose in a way that would unite the 90,000 members in 1,249 communities while distinguishing itself from all other organizations. 

One of Mitchell’s Objects, in particular, was significantly different from other clubs’ creeds. But it also was the most heavily debated. All because of one word: spiritual. 

“I recognized fully,” acknowledged Mitchell, “that something might be said about the word spiritual, which is used in the broadest sense, not in any religious sense at all. To me, it is the highest work that Kiwanis can do ... to emphasize the spiritual rather than the material values."  

Kiwanis International Secretary Fred C.W. Parker agreed with the Objects, but said he feared people would misinterpret the word spiritual. John H. Moss suggested replacing it with ethical. But Mitchell stood firm.

“I believe that by laying emphasis on spiritual values, we are building into the permanent fabric of civilization. As to inserting the name of the Creator, I would be opposed to that, … because I do know ... that we have men who do not believe there is such a thing as a Creator, and we have to recognize them. It is the duty of the churches to deal in man’s relationship to his Creator. We are dealing specifically with man’s relationship to man.” 

"I am sold on the word spiritual,” said 1918–19 President Perry Patterson, a prominent Chicago lawyer. “My thought of spiritual has nothing to do with theology. My idea of spiritual is that it refers to the qualities of character — like courage, imagination, integrity, vision, faith, hope.”  

With that — and only a few minor adjustments — the Objects of Kiwanis were approved by the committee.

In June 1924, Kiwanis International President Ed Arras stepped to the podium at the Denver, Colorado, USA, Kiwanis International convention and introduced the six new proposed Objects to the organization.

It was the defining moment of Kiwanis. Arras was convinced that the six fragmented sentences typed on the pages of his speech defined the heart — the essence — of Kiwanis. They read: 

  • To give primacy to the human and spiritual rather than to the material values of life. 
  • To encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships. 
  • To promote the adoption and the application of higher social, business and professional standards.
  • To develop by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship. 
  • To provide through Kiwanis clubs a practical means to form enduring friendships, to render altruistic service and to build better communities. 
  • To cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism and goodwill.  

The delegates agreed and approved them.

Occasionally changes have been suggested. One proposal, for example, questioned the use of the adjective aggressive to modify citizenship. Most recently, in 2012, a seventh Object was offered: “To encourage, support and promote an equal opportunity to serve.” But the Kiwanis Objects stand unchanged.  

“There could be no stronger proof of the soundness of our Objects than the fact that the customs and mores of the people could change so much and yet the Objects could continue to serve so well,” wrote Kiwanis International Trustee Thomas L. Husselton in a May 1949 Kiwanis magazine article. “This quarter century test has shown that they cannot be improved because they are so fundamental.”  

Another 25 years later, in another Kiwanis magazine article, Managing Editor David Williams wrote: “The Objects … helped chart the early course of Kiwanis, helped give the organization direction and guidance along the way. Today they remain an inspiration and a beacon for any of us who choose to rediscover them.”

This article is a compilation of stories written through the years by 1924 Kiwanis International President Ed Arras, 1949 Kiwanis International Trustee Thomas L. Husselton, past Kiwanis magazine Managing Editor David Williams and California-Nevada-Hawaii District Editors Curt and Lynn Seeden.