In January 1919 in Buffalo, New York, USA, Marian de Forest and four other women executives who attended a social meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Buffalo, an established all-male service club, were inspired to develop a new kind of service club, composed of women who were recognized leaders in their businesses and professions. Initially they founded the first Quota Club, but after several months de Forest and others decided to leave and start a new organization.
Clubs were organized in the USA in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, Elmira and Syracuse, followed by Erie, Ithaca, Utica and Detroit. Under the leadership of its charter president, Marian de Forest, a playwright and newspaper critic, the Buffalo club established specific guidelines for membership and classification, which the other eight clubs soon adopted.
The Confederation of Zonta Clubs was formed on 8 November 1919 in Buffalo. Mary E. Jenkins, newspaper publisher and civic leader, was elected the first president. Bylaws and a constitution were drafted and adopted. In order to select a name, each club submitted a list. The final vote was almost unanimous in adopting the Binghamton club’s suggestion of “Zhonta.” The Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institute later corrected the spelling to “Zonta,” explaining that the word was derived from a dialect (Teton Dakota) of the Sioux peoples, a Native American group. It signified the quality of being “honest and trustworthy.”
In April 1920, the first meeting of the Confederation officers was held in Rochester, New York. The Zonta colors were chosen and the Zonta emblem officially authorized. In October, the presidents of all existing clubs met in Syracuse, New York and adopted two resolutions:
The Confederation was incorporated under the laws of New York State in February 1922. Five years later, Zonta became international when the Club of Niagara Falls, composed of members from Canada and the United States, organized Toronto as the first club in Canada. In 1930, Zonta was introduced to Europe through news clubs in Vienna, Austria and then in 1931 in Hamburg, Germany. Growth continued steadily in Europe and Scandinavia over the following decade. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Zonta established itself in Latin America and Asia. In the 1960s, Zonta grew in Asia and was introduced to New Zealand and Australia. By 1970, Zonta became truly worldwide when six African nations joined the organization and, in 1991, Hungary joined Zonta as the first Eastern European club.
The Zonta Club of Schenectady was established in 1927 and is a local organization of women in decision-making positions. As part of Zonta International, the mission of the club is also the mission of the international organization, to advance the status of women worldwide. The Zonta Club of Schenectady works locally to achieve this global mission.
Celebrating 95 Years in 2015, Zonta International continues to be on the front lines of the fight for women's equal rights through local and global projects that promote economic selfsufficiency, political equality, access to education and health, and the prevention of violence against women.