The International Association of Lions Clubs began as the dream of Chicago businessman Melvin Jones. He believed that local business clubs should expand their horizons from purely professional concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large. Jones' group, the Business Circle of Chicago, agreed. After contacting similar groups around the United States, an organizational meeting was held on June 7, 1917 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The new group took the name of one of the invited groups, the "Association of Lions Clubs," and a national convention was held in Dallas, Texas, USA in October of that year. A constitution, by-laws, objects and code of ethics were approved. Among the objects adopted in those early years was one that read, "No club shall hold out the financial betterment of its members as its object." This call for unselfish service to others remains one of the association's main tenets. Just three years after its formation, the association became international when the first club in Canada was established in 1920. Major international expansion continued as clubs were established, particularly throughout Europe, Asia and Africa during the 1950s and '60s. In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the Lions international convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, USA. She challenged Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness." From this time, Lions clubs have been actively involved in service to the blind and visually impaired. Broadening its international role, Lions Clubs International helped the United Nations form the Non-Governmental Organizations sections in 1945 and continues to hold consultative status with the U.N. In 1990, Lions launched its most aggressive sight preservation effort, SightFirst. The US$143.5 million program strives to rid the world of preventable and reversible blindness by supporting desperately needed health care services. In addition to sight programs, Lions Clubs International is committed to providing services for youth. Lions clubs also work to improve the environment, build homes for the disabled, support diabetes education, conduct hearing programs and, through their foundation, provide disaster relief around the world. Lions Clubs International has grown to include over 1.4 million men and women in approximately 48,000 clubs located in over 200 countries and geographic areas.
In 1918 at the Second International Convention, it was decided to parcel the United States into districts, with each district having a District Governor. They were numbered from the west coast to the east coast; Kansas and Oklahoma combined and became District 6. At that time, Kansas had no Lions Clubs. The first Kansas Lions Club was chartered in Wichita, December 4, 1919. An earlier club was started in June, 1917, in Wichita, but it disbanded after its second meeting. In 1921, Kansas became a separate District and John H. Boys became the District Governor and a year later he became an International Director.
In July 1937, Kansas had 102 clubs and at that time Kansas subdivided into three districts (K, A, and N). By 1947, a need for another district was recognized, and Kansas was subdivided into districts K, A, N, and S. In 1951, the need again arose and Kansas was subdivided into eight districts, with the four previous districts being subdivided into an east and west subdivision (NE-NW, SE-SW, KE-KW, AND AE-AW). In 1994 another district configuration was approved at the State Convention in Topeka and took effect July 1, 1995. This configuration changed the total number of districts to seven and designating them as K1 (SE), K2 (South Central), K3 (SW), K4 (NW), K5 (NW Central), K6 (NE Central), and K7 (NE). With a decline in total membership, Multiple District 17 was reconfigured to five districts (L, I, O, N, S) in 2008 and in 2014 it returned to three districts (K, A, N).
The governing body of the Lions of Kansas is the State Council. The State Council is composed of a current District Governor (for each District), the Council Chair, State Secretary, and State Treasurer. The current District Governors and the District Governor Elects elect A new Council Chair is elected each spring by the current District Governors and the 1stVice District Governors. This process of filling the Council Chair position was started in 1954. Before that time, the state convention was rotated among the districts, and if the convention was in your district, you were automatically the Council chair. The Council appoints the Treasurer after advertisement of the position and applications filed. The Treasurer generally serves until resignation or being replaced. The State Secretary is the only full-time paid employee of the Multiple District and serves until resignation or replacement. The state council did not exist before 1937: however, it is not exactly sure when it did come about. It is fairly certain that the first state council met during the 1938-39 Lions year. The state council holds four meetings annually, besides any special meetings that may be called. The meetings are generally held in August, October, January, and June. The third council meeting is held in conjunction with the Mid-Winter Rally and the fourth in conjunction with the state convention. The state council is the custodian of all state funds, it selects the state convention site, and it is responsible to maintain, promote, and extend Lionism within Multiple District 17.