Dr. William P. Woods of Evansville, Indiana originally founded (chartered) the “Royal Order of Lions” as a fraternal organization (and as a secret society) on August 8, 1911. However, after only a few years, that organization would be disbanded in favor of a more service oriented organization. Dr. Woods began forming new Lions Clubs as early as 1915 for the new purpose of starting a community service oriented organization. On January 18, 1916, the Austin, Texas, Lions Club (today’s oldest continuously operating Lions Club) was chartered by Mr. E.A. Hicks of Indiana on behalf of Dr. Woods.
On October 24, 1916, Dr. Woods, Carmi Hicks, and C.R. Conen officially chartered (incorporated) this successor organization to the “Royal Order of Lions,” as the “International Association of Lions Clubs” by filing Articles of Incorporation for this non-profit organization with the State of Indiana. By June 1 of 1917, the International Association of Lions Clubs, which had been founded and chartered by Dr. Woods, already consisted of at least 27 clubs in no less than 9 states. (Records, from the State of Indiana, actually reflect that 35 Lions Clubs had been issued charters by June 1, 1917.)
Around this same time a young businessman from Chicago, named Melvin Jones, had also decided that what the world needed was more compassion ... more caring about others and less concern about one’s own self. Assisted by his wife, Rose Amanda, Mr. Jones began writing letters to other men's organizations of that day - some of whom already held this same philosophy of service to others. Would they be interested in meeting to discuss a new organization, one that would utilize the resources of businessmen and other professionals to benefit communities and people in need?
Melvin Jones first became interested in serving humanitarian needs after he became a member of the Business Circle of Chicago in 1913. As a young insurance executive, he was, in many ways, like his fellow club members. Jones, however, had a desire to serve more than just his own business interests, and after four years in the Business Circle, he realized that he had much more to offer his fellow men. His wife agreed, and they both set out to find others who would join them in their quest to make the world a better place.
On June 7, 1917, Melvin Jones called an organizational meeting of what would later be known as today’s “Association of Lions Clubs International” at the old La Salle Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. Present for that organizational meeting were representatives of several other community service oriented clubs of that day, notably, Dr. William P. Woods, a physician from Evansville, Indiana, who was then serving as the President and Founder of the International Association of Lions Clubs. At the time of Melvin Jones’ invitation, there were already at least 27 Lions Clubs listed as members of the International Association of Lions Clubs. Dr. Woods, as President and Founder of the International Association of Lions Clubs, was invited by Mr. Jones, according to Mr. Jones’ own written records of the time, "with a view to lining up our organization with yours.”
Other clubs, to which an invitation was also extended for this organizational meeting, included the Vortex Club of St. Louis, Missouri, the Business and Professional Men's Association of St. Paul, Minnesota, the Optimist Clubs, and the Exchange Clubs. (However, no representative of the Exchange Clubs attended the organizational meeting.) Subsequently, representatives of the: Lions Clubs, Optimist Clubs, Vortex Club, and the Business and Professional Men's Association of St. Paul, Minnesota all met with the Business Circle of Chicago to discuss the formation of an international service organization.
According to the minutes of that meeting, the following resolution was introduced by Edwin J. Raber and W.J. Livingston (seconded by A.F. Sheahan) and then unanimously adopted by the Business Circle of Chicago:
"That the Board of Directors of the Business Circle of Chicago enter into negotiations with Dr. W.P. Woods of The International Association of Lions Clubs, and other clubs with reference to the affiliation of these clubs and that said Board of Directors have full power to make and complete all arrangements for said affiliation and any act they do on the premises shall be the act of this club and binding thereon." Also, according to those same minutes, Dr. Woods invited each of the various clubs in attendance to join the International Association of Lions Clubs. Dr. Woods is quoted in the minutes as saying:
“Whereas all clubs represented here today have different names, and whereas the Lions clubs have an international organization, with approximately thirty clubs in different parts of the United States, and whereas the Lions clubs are not now represented in any other cities represented by the other clubs: therefore, as president of The International Association of Lions Clubs, I hereby extend an invitation to these clubs to accept charters in The International Association of Lions Clubs and become a part and parcel of our organization. If you accept this invitation, there will be no membership charged, and all we ask is to adopt our name and pay dues to The International Association, which are at the rate of $1.00 per member, payable semi-annually in advance.”
The Vortex Club of St. Louis immediately accepted this offer of membership and received their Lions Club charter on July 25, 1917. The Business Circle of Chicago also resolved to become a Lions Club and their charter was issued on August 2, 1917. The Professional Men's Association of St. Paul, Minnesota also accepted Dr. Woods’ offer to join The International Association of Lions. (The Optimist Clubs representatives chose not to accept this offer of membership into The International Association of Lions that had been extended by Dr. Woods. Instead, they immediately left the organizational meeting that Melvin Jones had called to order in Chicago and the Optimist Clubs organization still continues under its own name today.)
While the La Salle hotel has been gone many years - a victim of changing times and the wrecker's ball - Lions Clubs International has since flourished well beyond either Melvin Jones’ or Dr. W.P. Woods’ wildest dreams that day... becoming the largest community service club organization in the world.
On July 31, 1917, Dr. Woods, as President and Founder of The International Association of Lions Clubs, issued a call for the organization’s first official (annual) convention from his Evansville office, which called for "the first convention of Lions Clubs, to be held in the city of Dallas, Texas, on October 8, 1917."