The Lions Club International voted overwhelmingly Saturday to lift immediately its 70-year-old ban on female members.
"The presence of women should add new life and vitality to Lions Club International," said the service organization's president, Brian Stevenson, of Calgary, Canada. "The problems of the world are too serious to limit their solution to only half of our population."
Women had been barred from the Lions Club since its formation by a Chicago business group in 1917. Officials said women were kept out because so few were in business when the organization began.
Of the 5,100 delegates who voted Saturday, 77% voted in favor of an amendment to the constitution removing the stipulation that members be male.
The measure takes effect at once. It grants invited women full membership rights and privileges, including the right to vote and hold office in the club, which has 1.35 million members in 162 countries.
The vote came on the last day of the Lions' 70th international convention in Taipei.
The Lions promote humanitarian services such as drug education and diabetes research.
Officials said the Lions first considered admitting women five years ago when there was a growing demand by women to join. A vote to allow women members worldwide narrowly missed the required two-thirds majority at the international convention last year.
The service club's board of directors voted unanimously in May to encourage its U.S. chapters to admit women. That vote came after the Supreme Court declared it illegal for service organizations to bar women.
Lions chapters in the United States have accepted 100 to 150 female members since May. Previously, wives and friends formed Lioness Clubs as unofficial affiliations of Lions groups.
About 40,000 Lions Club members attended this year's convention, the biggest international event ever held in Taiwan.