Despite a vote of two-to-one in favor of women being allowed to become members of the society, due to objections as to how the vote was made, a redo will take place in January 2020.

Members of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of New York, an all-male organization since its founding in 1783, voted by a nearly two-to-one margin to allow females to join its ranks, but an objection to the how the vote was carried out has necessitated a do-over which will take place at the next society meeting in January.

As the Irish Voice first reported last month, Friendly Sons members were asked to vote on a proposed change to the bylaws that would allow women to join the society for the first time.  All members received voting forms in advance of the Friendly Sons meeting on November 18 at the Princeton Club, and a huge majority, 165 to 84, approved the motion to change to the bylaws. 

Many of the votes were submitted by proxy from those unable to attend in person.  At the meeting, a member called into question the legitimacy of how the vote was conducted.  Specifically, the member said that according to existing bylaws, proxy votes should have been accepted up to the time of the meeting.  The voting form that members received said that proxies would have to be submitted no later than November 11.

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The society’s new president, John A. Coleman, who began his term at the meeting on the 18th, told the Irish Voice that the member was correct in pointing out that the vote deadline should have extended to the start of the meeting.   “The vote was therefore legally defective, but the motion is still alive.  At the end of the day this isn’t a U.S. presidential election,” Coleman said.

“We are not looking to defeat one side or another.  We want the society to move forward together, and we don’t want members to feel disenfranchised.”

Once the member pointed out the error in the voting process, Coleman said there was a “spirited discussion” among those present about the admission of women.   

“I feel that at least some of the members want there to be more discussion on the topic.  Everyone has the long-term interest of the society at heart,” Coleman said.

“This is such an historical and cultural shift for the society, and we don’t want anyone to feel in any way that it was done incorrectly.  So we will go through the process correctly in advance of our January meeting.”

The society’s immediate past president, Kevin J. Rooney, proposed the bylaw change at a meeting in May and sent a letter to members in advance of the vote urging them to allow females to join.

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“By admitting women as members, we have the opportunity to bolster the ranks of our membership by welcoming talented and successful Irish daughters who share in our appreciation of Irish culture and wish to dedicate their time, skills, talents and finances to further promote the interests of the society,” Rooney wrote.

“While members should be extremely proud of the society’s 235-year history, permitting women to join our ranks will ensure that we accomplish even more over the course of the next 235 years and, most importantly, that the society’s anniversary dinner continues to be the most sought-after, well-attended and recognized celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the world.”

Coleman is a third-generation Friendly Sons president – his grandfather served in the 1940s, as did his uncle in the 1970s.  When asked his own views on opening up the membership to women, he replied that it’s more important what Friendly Sons members collectively think.

“I want the will of the membership to determine the course of the society,” said Coleman, the father of three daughters. 
“I can see both sides, but I want our members to feel as if they’ve had the chance to have their voices heard.”

Women were invited to join Friendly Sons members as guests for the first time at this year’s St. Patrick’s dinner at the New York Hilton.  The keynote speakers were former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo.

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Friendly Sons of St. Patrick's dinner in 1918. The society has been all-male since its founding in 1783.