Big “D” History

Big “D” Toastmasters Club, originally chartered in March 1949, holds a special place in Dallas history as the city’s pioneering Toastmasters Club and the oldest in our district, now known as District 50. Initially named the Toastmasters Club of Dallas, it swiftly adopted the moniker Big “D” Toastmasters Club. The Club’s charter was celebrated at a Charter Presentation Banquet on March 31, 1949, hosted at the Downtown Branch of the Dallas YMCA, which also served as its meeting venue.

The choice of location was pragmatic, as many of the initial members, eight out of the original 29, resided at the Downtown YMCA due to the housing shortage following World War II. This circumstance was common, particularly among single young men, including former servicemen seeking affordable accommodation. The Downtown YMCA building, with its residential facilities, stood until the 1970s.

Notably, the venue held historical significance for Toastmasters International’s origins. Ralph C. Smedley, a YMCA education director, established the first Toastmasters Club in the basement of a YMCA in Santa Ana, California, on October 22, 1924.

Toastmasters International initially limited its membership to men over 18, but societal shifts prompted a call for inclusivity. In response, Toastmistress International, a parallel organization exclusively for women, emerged in the late 1930s. Remarkably, Toastmistress International made its mark in Dallas before Toastmasters International did. Miss Mary Allen, President of Dallas Toastmistress Club, graced the Big “D” Charter Presentation Banquet, and was the first person to offer congratulations at the Charter Presentation Banquet.

The tide turned towards gender inclusivity within Toastmasters International at the 1973 International Convention in Houston, Texas, where an amendment to the constitution allowed clubs to admit any person regardless of gender. However, each club had to have their own vote to change their club constitution in order for the new rules to apply to their club. Big “D” and other clubs engaged in heated debates over membership policies.

Despite resistance, in November 1974, Big “D” passed an amendment to its constitution, allowing women to join. Notably, this decision wasn’t without consequences, as some longstanding members resigned in protest. Nevertheless, Toastmistress International eventually dissolved in the early 1990s as Toastmasters International embraced gender-inclusive membership.

Throughout its 62-year legacy1, Big “D” has been a beacon of educational and leadership development, producing eight district governors and impacting countless lives in the Dallas community. Its members have included influential figures from various fields, leaving indelible marks on the city’s landscape.

As we celebrate our rich history, let us continue to uphold the spirit of Big “D” Toastmasters and its commitment to excellence in communication and leadership development. Long live Big “D”!

The information in this article was supplied in 2011 by former Big “D” Toastmasters member John Sessions, and rewritten by current club members. Mr. Sessions left Big “D” Toastmasters in 2017, but was a member of Big “D” for over 40+ years. The current members of Big “D” will always be grateful for the information he has provided to us about the history of the club.

  1. This article was originally written in 2011, and the club is now much older than 62. ↩︎

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