The 1920s: Dreams of Greatness

By the summer of 1920, and the first anniversary of the founding of the International Optimist Club, the original 11 Optimist Clubs had grown to 17, with more than 3,000 men listed as members. At the second convention, held in St. Louis, delegates re-elected William Henry Harrison to the presidency, the only person in the organization’s history to serve two terms as president. Harrison was the assistant superintendent of agencies for a large life insurance company and as part of his duties he traveled throughout the U.S. as an agency inspector. These trips on company business frequently took him to the widely scattered cities where Optimist Clubs existed. This allowed him to visit the clubs without cost to him or the fledgling organization, which in those early years struggled to find money in its treasury for postage stamps much less travel for its president.

At the third convention in Springfield, Illinois, a real estate developer from St. Louis, Cyrus Crane Willmore, was elected president. During the 1921-22 year, Willmore traveled all over the United States at his own expense, strengthening and inspiring existing clubs and creating new clubs at the then-phenomenal rate of almost two a month.

At the end of his term as president of the International Optimist Club, Willmore delivered a convention address in which he laid out his dream of a great service organization “based on positive living and an affirmative philosophy.” Willmore used that optimistic philosophy in his professional life after serving as president as he became a millionaire within the next few years only to see it wiped away in the Great Depression. Calling on his “affirmative philosophy,” he later made another million before he died.

The Optimist Magazine

From its inception, the lines of communication between clubs and individual members were strengthened by The Optimist magazine. The first edition was published in October 1920. Each of the 27 clubs in existence was requested to appoint a “scribe” to report in at least once a month with news of his club, suggestions for the entire organization and optimistic thoughts about things in general.

On the front cover of some of those early issues appears a moon-shaped, smiling face. This beaming countenance had been suggested by a St. Louis Optimist as the official emblem of the International Optimist Club and it was so voted by the executive committee in August 1922. Along with the smiling face there appeared another symbol with the sun in its center and the words “Friendship, Sociability, Loyalty, Reciprocity” around it as a border.

The Optimist magazine is today one of the longest continually published magazines in North America, with issues published and sent to every Optimist Club member from that 1920 first edition to the present.