This is the eighth in a series of features exploring the world of service club organizations. They all have familiar names, but do you know what they really do? The name of each service club organization may evoke a particular memory from your past that describes what you think is their main activity in the community. This series will examine aspects of these groups that may not be as well-known to all of us but are very important to the people they serve. How did it all start? Again, the explanation is not so simple.
It started about 69 miles from where I grew up in Rochester, New York. Buffalo, New York was the birthplace of Zonta International in 1919. It’s pioneering members were, according to their website, “among the first generation of college-educated women, the first generation of North American women to vote, and part of the growing, though comparatively small, legion of women entering the workforce.” Marian de Forest began her career in publishing as a reporter with the Buffalo Evening News followed by the Buffalo Commercial. She was the Executive Secretary of the Board of Women Managers for the Women’s Pavilion at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. She also became a playwright in 1911 when she adapted the novel “Little Women” into a stage play which toured the US and overseas and is still being performed today.
While working in a prominent role at the Buffalo Express (her third newspaper employer) she came up with the idea of forming an organization that would bring together women who were in executive positions. November 8, 1919 was the day that Ms. de Forest founded Zonta International with a group of “like-minded” women who also held prominent positions in the professional world. Zonta was founded as a service organization of executive women whose goal was and sill is to “improve the legal, political. economic, and and professional status of women worldwide.”
Now what does “Zonta” mean? Zonta comes from a Lakota Sioux Indian word that means honest and trustworthy. Marian explained the purpose of the group this way: “Zonta stands for the for the highest standards in the business and professional world … seeks cooperation rather than competition and considers the “Golden Rule” not only good ethics, but good business.” By 1920 a confederation of of nine Zonta clubs were formed with some 600 members.
According to the Zonta International website “Zonta’s strict business and classification system required its members to be employed at least 50 percent of the time at an executive of decision-making level in a recognized business or profession. In addition, each could have just one member per professional classification, a requirement that ensured clubs would have ‘experts’ in a broad range of fields.” The organization grew into 130 clubs in 6 countries over 3 continents. It’s members were working hard to attain gender equality in opportunities for employment.
Zonta became seriously dedicated to helping women in 1923 when they supported the care of 115,000 orphan children in Smyrna, Turkey. Zonta clubs grew globally with international service projects dedicated to world peace and women’s role in making it possible. In 1938 they began the Amelia Earhart Fellowships Program named after the famous aviatrix who was a Zontian. According to Ellen Parks, their International President at the time, explained “At that time few women considered a career in aerospace engineering, yet not one voice of doubt was raised as to the success of such a scholarship.” By 1948 they established the Z Club Program which promoted youth leadership and career mentorship. Those programs are the longest running ones Zonta has to improve educational, leadership, and youth development opportunities for women all over the world.
Zonta International worked through the United Nations back in 1956 when the USSR troops marched into Hungary to provide food and shelter for the Hungarian people. Over the years Zonta has often funded UN projects through the International Service fund. Some of those funded projects, which have improved the lives of thousands of women, are the Vocational and Training Center for Women in Ramalla, Jordan; Mobile Medical Units to serve mothers and children in rural Ghana; the Young Mother’s Hostel project in Uruguay; and the Revolving Loan Fund for Village Women in the Delta and Upper Egypt.
“Zonta Clubs still select, fund and participate in community projects fundamental to to promoting women’s economic self-sufficiency, political equality, access to education and health care and the elimination of violence against women. Each year Zontians dedicate thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars to affecting these changes, while the Zonta International programs funded by the Zonta International Foundation impact these issues on a global level.”
The Zonta Club of Eugene-Springfield was founded in 1936. Currently they have 16 dedicated members. They say being a Zontian is about service, fellowship, networking, personal development and leadership opportunities for women. Through their Zonta Service Foundation they have provided grants to support many local organizations, including Looking Glass, Womenspace, Mobility International, Girl Scouts, Sponsors, and Sexual Assault Support Services.
The Zonta Club of Eugene-Springfield awards scholarships to deserving young women each year such as the Young Women in Public Affairs (YWPA) award. This year the local YWPA award winner was Kelsey Juliana who also won the regional YWPA award.
Their local members participated in the vigil at the UO campus to support the students at the University of California Santa Barbara because of the six dead and 13 wounded people who were shot in May near the UCSB campus by a lone gunman.
Every year they have a Geranium sale fundraiser which also helps beautify many homes in the area.
Local Zontians organize community events to educate the public on women’s issues. During their 16 days of activism in November they held candlelight vigils to raise awareness on issues such as human trafficking, and ending violence against women. On International Women’s Day each March they organize a community forum at the Eugene Hilton Hotel which draws over 100 people. Each year the forum focuses on a different topic. As with all service club organization Zonta of Eugene-Springfield is always looking for new members.
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