It was in May 1925 in Sacramento, California, that the eleven charter members comprising the first Key Club met officially for the first time. Prior to that meeting came a full year's activity and thought, through which the idea of the Key Club developed and finally reached fruition. The following describes that flowering. In California during the twenties, high school fraternities were in their heyday. Educators and others were concerned with the pernicious side of these groups and sought some means of replacing them with more wholesome activity for youth. Fraternities were banned by law; they merely went underground, to be heard of only when their excesses received glaring publicity. The idea of junior service clubs, similar to Kiwanis and other civic clubs, was broached in 1924, but the practical application was not put into effect until 1925.
Two men in the Sacramento Kiwanis club, who were high school administrators, approached their club with the idea of a junior service club in the high school, to be patterned after Kiwanis and to have its own classifications based on school interests and to hold luncheon meetings. Through this group in the high school, the Kiwanis club hoped to provide vocational guidance, first to boys who had decided upon their future occupation, and then to the entire school. The Kiwanis club president liked the plan and appointed a committee to look into the matter. The principal of the high school was most receptive and assisted in finding boys interested in joining such a group. Next, the plan was presented to the Board of Education upon the principal's request, and following its approval, the first Key Club meeting was held early in May 1925. Evidence of the value of this group and its program is found in the fact that the Sacramento High School Key Club is still in flourishing existence today.
The club held weekly luncheons in the school, where Kiwanians came to speak to the group on various vocations. Key Club members attended Kiwanis meetings as guests of the club to enhance further the value of Key Club membership by bringing high school students into constant contact with the business and professional men of the community. As the experience of the Key Club grew, a noticeable trend toward expanding the original purpose and activity was found possible, and the club was soon a complete service organization for the whole school. It also offered a social program to balance its service activities.
Through contact with the Sacramento Key Club and Kiwanis Club, other Kiwanis groups soon became interested in the activity and sponsored similar organizations in their own communities. One source of expansion during these early years came through high school principals and other educators. The school men responsible for the Sacramento Key Club talked of it with their colleagues and wrote of its activities in various articles. This resulted in many requests for information being sent to the Sacramento Kiwanis club concerning the Key Club. Such information was sent out and principals in various parts of the country were responsible for organizing similar groups in their own schools with the help of their local Kiwanis clubs. Practically all Key Club expansion which took place during the next fifteen years was accomplished in this way. By that time fifty clubs were functioning in California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington. In 1939 the first plan for combining individual local Key Clubs into federated groups was developed in Florida. With Kiwanis counsel, a convention of existing clubs was held, a state association formed, and officers elected. The purpose of the State Association was to promote an exchange of ideas concerning the Key Club activity and to expand the number of Key Clubs. Conventions were held each succeeding year, and when the International Constitution and Bylaws were adopted in 1946, the Florida Association became the first Key Club district.
Florida was instrumental also in promoting the formation of an International Association of Key Clubs to perform for the entire country what the Florida Association had done for Key Clubs in that state. In 1943, at the invitation of the Florida boys, Key Clubbers from clubs in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee were in attendance at the annual convention of the State Association held in Sanford. The representatives voted to form an International Association of Key Clubs and elected Malcolm Lewis of West Palm Beach, Florida, as first President.
Three formative years followed, during which the outlines of the present Key Club International organization were drawn. Lewis served one year and was followed in office by Eddie Richardson of Ft. Lauderdale, and Roger Keller of New Orleans. Keller presided over the third annual convention in New Orleans on April 27, 1946, at which time delegates from all parts of the country approved the Constitution and Bylaws, officially launching Key Club International.
During these years of early growth and increasing organization, Kiwanis International had not been idle. The Key Club was early recognized as a local club project, and no attempt was made to control its overall organization. In 1942 the Kiwanis International Board of Trustees recommended the movement to all clubs and directed the Boys and Girls Work committee to undertake the sponsorship of these clubs as an activity for students of high school age. In 1944 a special Kiwanis International Committee on Sponsored Youth Organizations was formed to look after Key Club work. Finally, in 1946, a separate Key Club Department was created in the International Office of Kiwanis International to serve as a clearing house for Key Club information, to keep the records and handle correspondence of the organization, to provide effective liaison between Key Clubs and Kiwanis, and to conduct the annual International conventions. Now the Key Club Department also handles a monthly publication--KEYNOTER--which was first issued in May 1946. The Kiwanis International Committee on Key Clubs was formed on January 1, 1949.
Since May of 1925, Key Club continues to grow rapidly. There are now clubs located throughout North America and the Caribbean area. In these groups, thousands of students are receiving training in leadership and service. The Key Club District organization is patterned after the original Florida District and its parent Kiwanis districts. These organizations hold their own annual conventions for fellowship, to coordinate the efforts of individual clubs, to exchange ideas on Key Clubbing, and to recognize outstanding service of clubs or individual with appropriate awards.
Key Club is truly an "International" organization. In 1946 the first club was built in Canada, and since that time many more have been added. Key Clubs have also been formed in the Caribbean and future growth is promising. Every year, led by the international officers, two hundred or more new Key Clubs are added to this fast growing organization, but emphasis is on permanent, active clubs, rather than on mere numbers as such. With this criterion as a guide, Key Clubs can expect a steady, healthy growth for many years to come.