The History of Mensa

A Brief History of Mensa's International Structure

by Vince Bonzagni, excerpted from the Mensa Book of Lists, written in 1997

1946 - 1964: From British Club to International Organisation

Mensa was, for all intents and purposes, an exclusively British club from its beginnings in 1946 up until 1960. The establishment of a branch in America in the fall of 1960, with its subsequent rapid growth, brought forth the inevitable issue of co-existing national Mensa groups versus one international group (with many branches). Since Roland Berrill had felt that a formal constitution was unnecessary, Mensa had never had anything but the most rudimentary official structure. As Mensa grew, however, the adequacy of the informal governmental and organizational structure came under fire and discussions began on the adoption of a formal constitution. In 1961, a referendum was held to determine if a formal constitution should be written. That vote, in August 1961, failed (153 for, 418 against, 3 abstentions). For the next few years, almost all matters continued to be handled through the governing (British) board in London.

At the November 1963 Annual General Meeting in London, the membership approved a policy on the structuring of an 'international' Mensa, and separation of the international board from the British board. This policy provided for the drafting and membership approval of a constitution, with subsequent elections to fill the posts created by it. The first 'formal' international constitution was approved in June 1964 (2,206 for, 264 against); it provided for 8 officers (Chairman, General Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Officer, Developments Officer, Editorial Committee Chair, Research Committee Chair and Premises Committee Chair). It further provided for one representative from each of the recognized national Mensa groups (United Nations style - without regard to group size). In September 1964, the first election was held, with the Wilson/Serebriakoff panel receiving the most votes (by about 4 to 1). The 'panel', or 'slate' system of voting is still used in International Mensa elections today (although there had not been a contested international election in many years until recently).

Mensa Gains Corporate Status 

Another provision of the 1964 constitution was the establishment of Mensa as a legal entity. After considerable work, Intermensa, Ltd. was incorporated as a 'holding company' on May 7, 1965. Maurice Salzedo, a solicitor and active British Mensan, became Secretary of the Corporation. It is interesting to note that in 1965, the name 'Mensa' was already in use in another corporate name and thus the preferred 'Mensa International, Ltd.' could not be used. In 1976, when the name became available once more, Mensa International, Ltd. (MIL) was incorporated in England. From 1976, MIL co-existed with Intermensa, Ltd. However, in May 1985, for legal reasons, Intermensa, Ltd. was dissolved in favor of MIL.

Major Constitutional Changes: One Board Becomes Two

In late 1969, a major reshuffling of the International General Committee (IGC) took place, following which several substantial constitutional amendments were proposed, approved and enacted. Although the people and the 'job titles' were in seemingly constant flux throughout the 1970s, the IGC nevertheless remained essentially intact. By 1980, however, the inequities of the U.N.-style system (from the large groups' perspective) had generated serious problems. The United States, with over 30,000 members (and a large financial obligation to International Mensa), had but one vote, the same as the Ivory Coast, which had only 10 members and virtually no financial obligation. Following a period of contentiousness, and several unsuccessful attempts to create acceptable drafts of a revised constitution, Hyman Brock (the Chairman of Mensa Canada at that time) brought the major players together in Miami and a compromise ('The Miami Pact') was hammered out on October 31, 1981.

The subsequently-approved constitutional changes and election dramatically altered the composition of the international governing body. Two boards were created: the IGC (International General Council), consisting of the International Chairman and the CEOs of all recognized national Mensas (with some qualifications). This body generally acts in an advisory capacity to the second board, the IBD (International Board of Directors). The IBD consists of the International Chairman, Director of Administration, Director of Development and Treasurer (the four elected International Officers), along with representatives ('Nat Reps') chosen by each recognized national Mensa meeting a specified minimum membership level. The number of votes allocated to each national Mensa is based on its membership, with no group carrying more than 40% of the votes and no Nat Rep carrying more than three votes. The IBD sets policy, giving consideration to IGC advice.

The vote approving the above changes took effect at the end of April 1982. The Society was officially without officers from May 1, 1982 until July 1, 1982, when the newly-elected officials took office. Nevertheless, for continuity purposes, the outgoing IGC voted to allow the incoming officers to assume their duties on an unofficial basis as of May 1, 1982.

The Executive Committee (ExComm)

The IBD includes a smaller Executive Committee (ExComm), which is responsible for the day-to-day functioning of Mensa International. Formerly, ExComm consisted of the four internationally-elected officers (International Chairman, Director of Administration, Treasurer, and Director of Development), along with the chairs of the two largest National Mensas (American Mensa and British Mensa).

However, since 2005, another IBD-elected officer, the Director of Smaller National Mensas, has been included in the ExComm team. Also, in 2012, the chair of Mensa Germany joined ExComm due to that national group reaching the milestone of 10,000 members. Therefore, currently the Mensa chairs (or their proxies) of the three largest National Mensas (America, Britain, and Germany) each have a seat on ExComm. 

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