The founding of Zonta International occupies a unique moment in women’s history. Established in Buffalo, New York, USA in 1919, early members were among the first generation of college-educated women, the first generation of North American women to vote, and a part of the growing, though still a comparatively small, legion of women entering the workforce.
Over the decades, Zonta International has grown into a worldwide service organisation of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women. There are more than 30,000 members in more than 1,200 clubs in 67 countries all over the world.
Inspiration and Founder
While working in a prominent role at the Buffalo Express at a time when women rarely held leadership positions, playwright and journalist Marian de Forest conceived the idea of an organisation that would bring together women in executive positions. She envisioned a strong network that would help women reach their rightful places in the professions.
Zonta’s first club was chartered in Buffalo, New York on November 8, 1919. Membership grew rapidly. By 1920, a confederation of nine Zonta clubs had formed with 600 members.
Helping Shape Women’s Lives in the 20th and 21st Centuries
While Zonta shared a common vision with hundreds of women’s clubs in the first part of the 20th century – encouraging women’s teamwork, courage, risk-taking, and self-reliance – it also represented something of a departure.
Zonta’s strict business and classification system required its members to be employed at least 50 percent of the time at an executive or decision-making level in a recognised business or profession. In addition, each club could have just one member per business classification, a requirement that ensured clubs would consist of “experts” in a broad range of fields. The founders foresaw the benefits of having clubs made up of architects, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, executives, doctors, government officials, lawyers, pilots, scientists and more. This diverse expertise meant clubs could offer their communities and the world optimum service, backed by a broad range of understanding and insight.
Early members were keenly aware of the challenges of carving a place for themselves in what was still a predominantly male domain. Many Zonta clubs actively pursued gender equity in employment opportunities.
During the 1930s, Zonta International grew to 130 clubs in six countries spanning three continents and continued its push for gender equity in employment. After the United States passed the “Married Persons Law,” which predominantly affected wives by prohibiting more than one family member from working for the government, Zonta adopted a resolution to demand repeal of the law; and, in 1944, delegates to the Zonta International Convention endorsed the elimination of gender discrimination in job opportunities and rates of pay. The organisation also expressed support for women’s reserves to the military service.
While Zonta’s work to achieve gender equity in employment dates back many years, so do its efforts in other critical areas of women’s lives. Education has been a focus since the adoption of the Vocational Education for Girls Project, Zonta’s first US service program, in 1928. The project asked Zontians to provide information on their job descriptions, work conditions, compensation and training requirements for a centralised job bank available to high school libraries, universities and colleges.
In 1923, Zonta supported relief efforts to care for 115,000 orphan children in Smyrna, Turkey, an event that marked the beginning of Zonta’s dedication to helping women internationally. As technology made the world a smaller place and Zonta clubs sprang up around the globe, international service projects, initially dedicated to world peace and women’s role in attaining it, increased. Action for World Peace expressed support for the fledgeling United Nations (UN) and was adopted at the 1946 Convention.
The Amelia Earhart Fellowships Program, launched in 1938, commemorates groundbreaking aviator and Zontian Amelia Earhart. Ellen Parks, then serving as Zonta International President, remembered, “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.” Ten years later, the Z Club Program was established to promote youth leadership and career mentorship. Today, these programs stand as Zonta’s longest running programs, two of several dedicated to improving educational, leadership and youth development opportunities for women around the world.
In 1956, when Soviet troops marched into Hungary, Zonta International worked through the UN to provide food and shelter to Hungarian refugees. Since then, Zonta has frequently funded UN projects through the International Service Fund. Projects such as the Vocational and Teacher Training Center for Women in Ramallah, Jordan; Mobile Medical Units to serve mothers and children in rural Ghana; the Young Mothers Hostel Project in Uruguay; and the Revolving Loan Fund for Village Women in the Delta and Upper Egypt have improved thousands of women’s lives.
One of the first service organisations to understand women’s unique role in achieving world peace, Zonta International continues to promote justice and universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Zonta in Australia
The Zonta Club of Dunsborough is part of Area 3, which is part of District 23
Zonta first started in Australia in 1929 with the establishment of a club in Sydney, one of the first to come into existence outside the United States and Canada, but by 1935 this club had disappeared and it was not until 1965 that Dorothy Thompson was asked to re-introduce Zonta in Australia and New Zealand. New clubs were formed in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. Between 1965 and 1971, this remarkable woman organised clubs in all the capital cities in Australia, and in five cities in New Zealand.
Today, what was originally District 16, covering Australia and New Zealand is now divided into four districts – District 16 – New Zealand, District 24 – New South Wales and ACT, District 22 – Queensland, and District 23, covering South Australia and the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania.
Three Australians have held the highest office as International Presidents, Leneen Forde (1990-92), Val Sarah (1998-2000) and Mary Magee (2000-2002).
A brief history of the Zonta Club of Dunsborough Inc. District 23, Area 3. Club 1319
The Zonta Club of Dunsborough Chartered on 29th April 1991
Jean Oldham and her Mentoring Committee from the Zonta Club of Perth approached Claire Guinness of Dunsborough with the suggestion that a Zonta Club be formed in the area which covers from Capel to Augusta. The first meeting of this committee and women from the area was held at the Dunsborough Hotel on September 21, 1990.
A Committee was elected and on April 29, 1991, and the Zonta Club of Dunsborough Area was accepted as an official member of Zonta International. 30 Members were inducted by the District 23 Governor Elizabeth Harris at the Charter Dinner on June 15, 1991. This was a gala event for 120 Area 3 Zontians and local residents.
Charter President: Linley Scott, Vice President: Claire Guinness; Secretary: Julie Cary.
Our regular meetings are held on the 2nd Monday of each month, except January. Many meetings include a guest speaker. Meeting venues have included Dunsborough Hotel, Yungarra Lodge, Café Ibis, Teddy Maxwell’s, Assisi Ristorante, Radisson Resort and Caves House Hotel, which is our regular “home” now.
Club Board and Committees:
For most of its history, the Board of the club has comprised: President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and four Directors. The Board generally meets on the 4th Monday of the month. The structure of committees has varied over time varying from two to four. Our committees currently number three:
- Fundraising & Finance
- Public Relations and Membership
Committees meet on the 3rd Monday of the month. The chairman of each committee is appointed by the President. In addition, there is a nominating committee, a club parliamentarian and a club archivist-historian.
They meet on the 3rd Monday of the month at one of the member’s homes, over wine & nibbles. The chairman of each committee is appointed by the President. In addition, there is a nominating committee, a club parliamentarian and a club archivist-historian.
Member numbers reached 35 in 2005 and fell to 20 in 2012. At 20 June 2017 the club membership stands at 24 members.
Many breakfasts have been held on International Women’s Day advocating improved health, education and status of women. They are currently used as an opportunity to present awards.
Comfort bags comprising emergency toiletries are supplied to Bunbury Refuge. Respite holidays have been provided for women recommended by Zonta House refuge in Perth. A Zonta Rose Garden was established by members in Dunsborough town centre in 2001.
The main fund-raiser is a Melbourne Cup Lunch which has been held at private properties and catered for by members or at local wineries. White Elephant stalls, Bridge Days and Film Nights have been held on a regular basis. The most novel events were the Bottle Yacht Races with yachts made from wine bottles, complete with sails, floating across a dam with spirited sponsorship and betting from the shore.
Recipients have included Bunbury and Busselton Women’s Refuges, MATES (a men’s support group addressing domestic violence), Nurture Works, Busselton Hospice, Val Lishman Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, Silver Chain, New Hope Leprosy Trust, St John Ambulance training for new mothers and many, many more.
A Scholarship of Excellence is awarded to a local girl in her second year at University. Outstanding Young Women of the Year Awards are given to Year 11 girls at each of the five local High Schools. Periodically Young Women in Public Affairs Awardees are selected. A Community Service Award is presented to a long-standing volunteer who is an unsung heroine and quiet achiever.
Two events are held each year which are purely for fellowship and involve no fundraising. One is a Christmas party and the other is generally a “Winter Warmer”. These have included French meals, Shed Parties, Curry Parties and Progressive Dinners. Husbands and partners are included and often past members are invited.
The club has hosted Area 3 Workshops in 1997, 2005 and 2012 and Area 3 Foundation Day Dinners in 2002 and 2010. W are pleased to be hosting the Area 3 Workshop in 2018.
The club has supported District 23 Birthing Kit and Breast Cushion projects since their inception. It also supported the Yarri Wada project in 2009.
Zonta International Foundation:
Each year club has contributes one-third of funds raised to Zonta International Foundation. Members elect which ZIF fund is to be supported. Traditionally these have been ZISVAW and International Service Projects.