Altrusa International was founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 1917, originally as Altrusa Institute. During that time, a record number of women were going to work during World War I, and there was a need for women’s civic organizations. Dr. Alfred Durham, a member of Kiwanis, began organizing clubs throughout Nashville, TN, Louisville, KY, and Dayton, OH, before he moved on to Indianapolis, IN, where he met Mamie L. Bass.
Mamie L. Bass had served as the Superintendent of the Women’s Division of the United States Employment Services, and was a partner in her brother’s architecture firm. She also assisted him in organizing a Rotary chapter in Indianapolis. While she admired Dr. Durham’s Institute, Bass felt that Altrusa could serve a higher purpose. In June 1918, when Altrusa held its first convention in Indianapolis, Mamie L. Bass’s vision became reality. The Altrusa Institute became a classified service organization for women.
Later, the Altrusa Institute was renamed as the National Association of Altrusa Clubs and adopted By-Laws that laid the groundwork for today’s Altrusans. Soon after, Mamie L. Bass created the Principles of Altrusa which defined Altrusa as "a builder of women" and an organization based on merit and accomplishment. The Principles were officially adopted in 1921 along with a major club building effort. By 1922, Altrusa had 20 clubs.
In 1935, Altrusa became international when the first club in Mexico was organized. Since that first step over US borders in 1935, Altrusa moved into Puerto Rico, Chile, Equador, Mexico, India, Korea, Russia, Ukraine, Ireland, Great Britain, Bermuda, Canada, and New Zealand. In 1946, Altrusa sent its first representative to the United Nations.
In 1962, Altrusa International established the Altrusa International Foundation, which is dedicated to improving economic well-being and quality of life through a commitment to community services and literacy. In 1966, the organization began to look to America’s youth as the future of Altrusa and established ASTRA service clubs. ASTRA encourages young people, ages 13 to 21, to participate in community service. Expanding on its commitment to youth, Altrusa adopted literacy as on-going area of service in 1977.
The eighties and nineties brought many exciting changes to Altrusa. With the end of Communism, the former Soviet Union saw its first Altrusa clubs. Increasing its global outlook, Altrusa expanded projects beyond literacy and education by adopting a resolution to promote environmental concerns in 1989.
The new millennium continues to bring new ideas and opportunities for Altrusa. In 2011, the association launched a new branding and marketing campaign with the purpose of increasing Altrusa’s image in the communities, and reaching out to an evolving membership.
Ilona A. Kerby
2013-2015 International President
Welcome to this Circle!
As Altrusans we are part of a very special circle of caring leaders, stretching around the globe. We carry on the Altrusa traditions and service that began almost 100 years ago when the first club was established. Altrusa has been serving communities through times of peace and times of war, natural disasters, and times of fast-paced change. Over the years it has been necessary to, at times, adjust our service focus, fundraising and operations to remain relevant.
We have now reached a crossroads, the point where each one of us must commit to boldly embarking on the path that will lead Altrusa forward into the future; to move us into the next 100 years. The past two biennia we examined what was needed to do this and we identified our drivers of clarity, flexibility and inclusion. It’s critical that we are clear about who and what we are and that we share this with our community. We must find ways to be flexible in meeting the needs of our members whether it is by trying new approaches to projects and fundraisers or conducting business differently. Even more important is to be inclusive by opening our hearts and minds to bringing members, who are not exactly like us, into our circle. It is that diversity that brings new ideas, projects and energy into a club.
During this biennium I challenge each of you to join in to experience the ‘power of one.’ This simply means each club member takes on the responsibility to help their club grow, each year of the biennium, by one net member. With this modest growth we will see the membership numbers jump by 700 and have us well on the way to being the service club to join in all our communities!
Let’s broaden our circle by welcoming new members and treasuring our current members with clarity, flexibility and inclusion guiding our way.
With Altrusa Love,
Ilona A. Kerby
International President, 2013-2015