The membership of the Jonathan Club, long one of the two leading private men’s clubs in Los Angeles, has voted by a 4-1 margin to admit women, club officials said Wednesday. They said woman members will soon be admitted on the same basis as men.
The club’s board of directors, acceding to the overwhelming sentiment expressed in the vote, decided to discontinue the practice of excluding women after what was described as a “terribly emotional meeting” Tuesday night.
Club President Donald E. Butler said that the decision to accept women into the 92-year-old club was made by “a group of rational individuals trying to do the right thing.”
About 2,500 of the club’s more than 3,000 full members voted in a survey of the membership, according to a board member who declined to be identified. An 80% majority answered affirmatively to a single question: Should women be admitted as full club members, with the understanding that a few rooms in the club would remain for males only?
“The agreement is that henceforth women will have equal access to the club,” the board member said, “They still must be socially acceptable, just as male members.”
At City Hall, those responsible for pushing a proposed city ordinance that would outlaw discrimination at all private clubs with more than 400 members where regular meals are provided and facilities are rented for meetings attended by non-members, applauded the Jonathan Club decision. But they said the ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Joy Picus, will go forward. Its first hearing will be in a committee session Wednesday.
Mayor Tom Bradley’s legal counsel, Mark D. Fabiani, and City Controller Rick Tuttle announced that the California Club and the Los Angeles Country Club would be the next targets of efforts to integrate clubs with both minorities and women.
The California Club, located just a block away from the downtown facility of the Jonathan Club, has a provision in its bylaws barring women, and it also reportedly has no black members. The Los Angeles Country Club has women members but reportedly excludes several minorities.
Los Angeles Country Club manager James Brewer did not return a call Wednesday asking for comment on statements by Fabiani and Tuttle. California Club President Lawrence P. Day declined comment, relaying word through a club aide that he had nothing to say.
But there were signs that the California Club in particular is coming under heavy pressure--perhaps internally as well as externally--to begin moving in the same direction as the Jonathan Club.
From without, Jonathan Club First Vice President John Peckham took a jab at the rival club, remarking that the Jonathan Club has now taken the lead.
“They’ve always said we follow the California Club,” Peckham said. “Bull!”
He added that the Jonathan Club has recently admitted so many minority members “we don’t even keep count of them.”
At the California Club, a member who heads a large law firm expressed impatience with the club’s position. He had said last week that not having women members had simply become inconvenient to big firms wanting to use the club for business meetings.
“I was over there to the California Club yesterday,” said the attorney, who asked not to be identified. “Nobody was saying anything about anything. I think those guys are too old to read what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, leaders of women’s organizations said that while applications for Jonathan Club memberships may at first be a trickle, they eventually will grow substantially.
“There won’t be a flood of applicants at first, because a lot of the Jonathan members have made their reluctance very clear in the past,” said Sheila Kuehl, president of the Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles. “There will be a few pioneers, and then more and more.”
“I’m not surprised (at the Jonathan Club vote),” Kuehl said. “I think that the pressure has been building in terms of public opinion and also legislative action at the state and city level. I’m frankly more surprised that the California Club has not announced its intention to admit women.”
The Jonathan and California clubs, and several exclusive clubs in San Francisco and Sacramento, are viewed as key places for discussing business, and business and professional people excluded from them have often felt at a career disadvantage. As Kuehl put it, “They provide wonderful access and camaraderie. Women want to be included.”
Judy Miller, president of the Women’s Trusteeship, said, “I think it’s great that the Jonathan Club has done it. They are to be congratulated. A year from now, they’ll look back and wonder what all the hue and cry was about. It is such a logical step. Everyone benefits.”
Councilwoman Picus, meanwhile, said that while the Jonathan Club’s action is “wonderful,” she intends to move forward with her ordinance.
“If it doesn’t apply to them, fine, we’ll have it on the books, and it will apply only to those who still discriminate,” she said.
Picus predicted that the ordinance will clear her Personnel and Labor Relations Committee next week and move on quickly to the council floor.
The ordinance would allow persons who believe they have been discriminated against, or the city attorney’s office, to sue for membership in the large business and golf clubs. Fabiani noted Wednesday that City Atty. James Hahn’s office has just issued an advisory opinion that such an ordinance would be upheld by the courts. A similar ordinance recently adopted in New York City has been upheld by a state court.
Tuttle said he hopes the Jonathan Club will now support the proposed ordinance. He paid tribute to those club members who had worked to bring about a more liberal admission policy within the club, but, he added, “I hope the motivation for this has not been to use this as a political ploy to deflect attention from the need for this ordinance.”
In addition to the Los Angeles ordinance, discriminatory clubs are also the target of state regulation. The state Franchise Tax Board is considering a proposal to take state tax deductions away from those spending money on club memberships and meals. A final vote is scheduled June 16. Board of Equalization member Conway Collis, who is pushing the proposal, said Wednesday that he will proceed with the action.
“I applaud the action taken by the Jonathan Club,” Collis said. “I hope that members of other clubs also end their discriminatory policies. The fact is that many members of clubs like the California Club and the Los Angeles Country Club are deeply involved with, and make an extraordinary contribution to the life of our community. But they have a blind spot in this area. They don’t seem to realize that as much as they are committed to helping people through their civic involvements and activities in other areas their actions in this area hurt people.”
At the Jonathan Club, meanwhile, a board member who asked not to be identified said that as a practical matter, the club will move immediately to admit some of more than 100 widows of members who have been seeking club membership. “There’s quite a backlog of these,” he said.
But, he emphasized, outside women will also come up for review soon, as soon as they are sponsored in the usual way. “Anybody will be considered, and of course there will be women members,” he said.
The board member added, however, that the club’s blackball system will remain in effect against anyone applying. At least three of the 12 members of the board must turn an applicant down before he or she can be rejected. There is, it was understood, however, a gentlemen’s agreement in the board that no applicants will be blackballed simply because they are women.
The vote for admitting women did not come as a surprise to the leadership of the Jonathan Club, another member said Wednesday. He explained that club leaders had taken the precaution earlier of conducting a straw vote among a 100-member sample. This had strongly indicated the members were ready for the change.