The first Kiwanis club was organized in Detroit, Michigan. The name "Kiwanis" was coined from an expression in an American Indian language of the Detroit area, "Nunc Kee-wanis", which means, "we trade" or "we share our talents." The group received a charter from the state of Michigan on January 21, 1915 and this is regarded as the birth date of Kiwanis.
In 1921, a group of Monroe business and community leaders saw a need in the community which they felt required the concerted effort of a service organization that embodied their own objectives and values. Later that year, the Monroe Kiwanis Club was chartered as part of Kiwanis Club, a service organization founded six years earlier. Dr. Thomas Wright was elected the first president of Monroe Kiwanis in 1921 and the work of service to the community began.
Kiwanis, like most service organizations formed in the early 20th century, was originally established as an organization for men. The issue of women's membership was debated with increasing support throughout the 1970's and 1980's and was approved in 1987. Today more than 60,000 women call themselves Kiwanians, about a quarter of the organization's total membership.