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Zonta International (New Zealand)

1965 –

This essay written by Cherry Raymond was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

1965 – 1993

Zonta International became a world-wide service organisation of women executives in business and the professions, working to improve the legal, political, economic, educational and professional status of women.

The first club was formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1919. The name 'Zonta', and the emblem, relate to a Sioux Indian word and symbols signifying inspiration, loyalty, radiance, honesty, trustworthiness and banding together for a purpose. As more clubs formed, the organisation was at first called the Confederation of Zonta Clubs. When two Canadian clubs were added in 1927, and involving other countries became part of future planning, the name Zonta International was adopted and a permanent headquarters was established in Chicago. By the 1990s, Zonta clubs existed in more than 60 countries, including Russia, Hungary and Estonia. Clubs were grouped into 26 administrative districts.

In 1965 a Canadian Zontian, Dorothy Thompson, came to Australasia expressly to form clubs. Auckland was the first, with 40 members, and Cherry Raymond became the first president. Sydney and Melbourne followed in 1966, Wellington formed in 1969, and Hamilton in 1970. By 1972 there were thirteen New Zealand clubs, which were part of Australasia’s Area 3.  District 16 status for Australia and New Zealand was conferred in 1974, with District Governors alternating between the two countries.

Zonta members with wall hangings
Members of the Zonta Club, of Wellington, hold up wall-hangings they have made to sell at their Christmas stall, 1973. The stall was to raise funds for the New Zealand Neurological Foundation and Zonta International projects. From left Detective Senior Sergeant Jean Dougall, actress and TV personality Pat Evison; bank travel officer Sharryn Waters, general medical practitioner Dr Margaret Sparrow, the president of the New Zealand Chapter of the World Crafts Council, Nan Berkley; and librarian Betty Krebs.

By 1989, when 90 clubs existed, it was clear that such a large district was too unwieldy to administer effectively. The 1989 District Conference in Auckland agreed that Australia would have two new districts and New Zealand clubs would retain the original designation of District 16, with Auckland's first president, Cherry Raymond, as district governor. Between 1990 and 1992 the number of New Zealand clubs rose from 25 to 31, most of them incorporated.

While fellowship, networking and supportive contact with other women were important to Zontians, service was the driving force of membership at both local and international level. Zonta International had consultative status with several UN agencies, and active representatives at UN sites in Geneva, New York, Paris and Vienna. Fundraising centred on providing facilities for women in developing countries. In the late 1980s, in partnership with the UN Development Fund for Women, Zontians worked to place resources in the hands of women themselves. In 1986–90, they contributed US$1 million to women's self-help projects for training, technology and credit.

Zontians also worked to promote and encourage women who showed outstanding ability, through international fellowship awards and club award programmes. The Young Women in Public Affairs Award, inaugurated internationally in 1991, aimed to encourage students to enter careers or attain leadership positions where they could help make socio-economic policy in their communities. A New Zealander, Kimberley Campbell of Christchurch, won the first award. Zontians sponsored Z Clubs for secondary school students, to involve them in community service and help them develop leadership skills. In 1993 only one New Zealand Z Club existed, in Marlborough, but more were being formed after a determined effort to arouse interest. Charity fundraising ranged from small in-club activities to ambitious public undertakings raising thousands of dollars. Personal, local service was important too, including such activities as painting and papering a women's refuge.

Until the 1990s Zonta International was exclusively a women's club, but to conform to a change in US law the organisation's bylaws changed to state that men could join at club option. To date very few clubs have chosen this option, and none in New Zealand.

Membership of Zonta was by invitation only. By the early 1990s, though predominantly Pākehā, Zonta retained some long-standing Māori members, and clubs were eager to find more Māori women qualified and willing to join. Clubs were striving to enrol younger women too, to avoid the sea of grey heads that could put off potential ill members. But it was becoming more difficult, in harsher economic times, to gain and retain members. Many women found the costs considerable; club subscriptions varied from about $90 to $150, and there were many additional expenses involved in dinner meetings, fundraising ventures, and tickets to Zonta functions. The cost of attending district conferences and international conventions was daunting.

By 1993 Zonta International may have had a conservative, elitist image, but it had plenty of strongly feminist members, perhaps because so many New Zealand clubs were formed when the most recent women's movement was gaining strength. Whether this would continue to be so as younger women joined was an open question. In the 1970s in particular, Zontians here had made liberal submissions on legislation affecting women, for example on equal pay, health, contraception, abortion, children and the family. There were advantages in being able to promote feminist views from an apparently conservative base. But conservative or feminist, Zontians world-wide were bound by their mission statement, which committed them to 'working together to advance the status of women'.

Cherry Raymond

1994 – 2018

In 2018, Zonta International had more than 29,000 members in 1150 clubs in 63 countries, and was looking forward to celebrating its centenary in 2019.  Since 1993, District 16 New Zealand had steadily grown and by 2018 its membership was holding stable, with approximately 650 members nationally, in 28 Zonta Clubs divided across five areas. There were also six Z Clubs—student organisations, established and sponsored by an established Zonta club—in secondary schools, and one Golden Z Club based at Lincoln University.

Each Zonta club remained responsible for its own service, fundraising and advocacy activities. From 2006 on, all the clubs contributed towards a different District Project each biennium. These included Teen Parent Schools, Endometriosis New Zealand, the New Zealand Gynaecological Foundation, and the Sophie Elliot Foundation. For 2018–2020, the designated Project was Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Aotearoa.

Eliminating violence against women became a major advocacy goal for the District from the mid-1990s. In 1995 District Governor Mary Kincaid attended the Zonta International Strategies to End Violence against Women (ZISVAW) Summit held in Washington. At the local level, several individual Zonta clubs started actively supporting Women’s Refuges with money, donations of toiletries and groceries, and through service projects. In 2013, Zonta International launched its worldwide ‘Zonta Says No to Violence Against Women’ campaign. All District 16 clubs were encouraged to promote this through public marches, debates, exhibitions in libraries during November to mark ‘White Ribbon Day’, and the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’. The distinctive orange and black ‘Zonta Says No’ banner became regularly seen at Zonta events throughout New Zealand.

Several New Zealand Zontians were recognised internationally, with a few serving on various international committees. The ultimate achievement, however, belonged to Wellington Zontian Lynn McKenzie, who was inaugurated as Zonta International’s President for the 2012–2014 biennium. Her services in promoting the advancement and welfare of women were officially acknowledged in 2014, when she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM). New Zealand Zontians were also very proud to acknowledge their three Zonta International Honorary Zontians: Dame Sylvia Cartwright, Dr Marilyn Waring and the Right Honourable Helen Clark.

At the Boston Convention in 1970, District Governor Joan Mary Longcroft had worn a dress and cloak which featured Māori motifs. This represented an acknowledgement of New Zealand’s unique identity and bicultural history. In 1974 and 2004, two other District 16 Governors borrowed a kakahu (traditional Māori cloak) to wear during the Convention Flag Ceremonies. When Metropolitan Dunedin member, Lynette Grave, became District Governor for the 2006-2008 biennium, many Zontians felt it was time to formally acknowledge New Zealand’s unique bi-cultural origins. A kakahu, designed and woven by an internationally renowned Ngāi Tahu artist and weaver, Ranui Ngarimu, was commissioned. Named Tohu Aroha (Gift of Love), it was proudly worn by outgoing District 16 Governor Janet Hope at the Zonta International Convention in Japan in July 2018.

In line with Zonta International’s 2018–2020 biennium goals, Souella Cumming, current District Governor, aims to maximise Zonta’s impact in New Zealand through service and advocacy initiatives and education programmes that empower women and girls, and to enhance District 16’s profile around the world through its centennial activities in 2019.

Helen Reilly [1]


[1] District 16 Historian, 2018–2020. Jennifer Loughton, author of the history published in 2017 (see below), was the Historian 2008–2018.

Unpublished sources

Zonta International District 16 records, 1965–1992, held by the current District Governor

Published sources

King, Hazel, Zonta in the Antipodes, Zonta, Sydney, 1989

Loughton, Jennifer A., Empowering Women: A History of Zonta International in New Zealand 1965–2016, Zonta International District 16 New Zealand, 2017