Early History

Early History – 1934 – 1995

by Marilyn J. Schmidt, 1995 Club President

On April 19, 1934, two enthusiastic, Springfield Zontians, Beatrice Latourneau and Elizabeth Klages, organized the Zonta Club of the Northampton. Our first big project was the Chesterfield Lodge. This was a large summer home where sick mothers could recuperate either alone, or with their small children under four. Until this project was lost in the activities of World War II, an annual hope chest lottery provided the funding for it. During its first decades, the club focused on helping flood victims, war relief efforts, and hospital projects. International commitments included contributions and books for a Chinese medical student, Christmas boxes to war victims, adopting a Belgian girl, and sending CARE packages “to any country not under Russian domination.”

During the 1950’s, local projects included renovation of a recreation room at the Northampton State Hospital (NSH), contribution to the chapel fund at the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VA), decoration of a Zonta Room at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH), working on the maternity ward there, and helping in the City of Northampton’s 300th Anniversary celebrations. We raised funds through rummage sales and bazaars. Our service work netted us the District I Blue Ribbon Award in 1957 and 1958. We frequently held joint meetings with other local service clubs, such as Quota Club.

Our club’s commitment to service on both the local and the international levels continued through the 1960’s. We never missed an annual commitment to the Amelia Earhart Scholarship Fund. Members also sponsored Ramallah. the vocational training school for Arab refugee girls. CDH, Clarke School for the Deaf, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Amherst Community Chest, the Visiting Nurses Association (VNA), and People’s Institute all benefited from our donations. Local scholarship initiatives for young women were initiated at Smith College School for Social Work and the University of Massachusetts (UMASS). Our time and energy went into active service at CDH, NSH, and the Lathrop Home. Fund-raising, like death and taxes, was with us throughout. Our major projects included a tour of private homes, the staffing of Smith College Alumnae Association’s reunion parties, a hat sales party, and more rummage sales. Our 1962 resolution opposed to the designation of “The Loyalty Fund” (to benefit headquarters) as a “service project” earned us a reputation as independent. As the tempo of our lives increased, two time-honored traditions fell by the wayside: our automatic attendance at Springfield’s “birthday celebration” each fall, and our mother club’s attendance at our birthday celebration each spring.

In the 1970’s and the 1980’s, membership fell off from a high of over 40 to its current levels. However, our fund-raising and service efforts never flagged. Internationally, Amelia Earhart Fellowships, Ramallah, and UNICEF were our priorities. We also contributed to a children’s health clinic in the Village of Lagos, Nigeria. Nationally, we helped the American Red Cross with the devastation left by Hurricane Camille. Locally, we continued to help the United Way, People’s Institute, Clarke School for the Deaf, YMCA, CDH, Hampshire County Hospital, and other causes. Hospitality Parties at Smith College continued as our major source of income, supplemented by a flea market and an annual theater night at StageWest. Our first honorary member, Smith College President Jill Kerr Conway, joined us in 1975.

In the 1990’s, our numbers are still modest, but our ambitions and our energies are great. Verda Dale, a club member since 1961, provides us with much needed continuity with the past. Mayor Mary Ford is an Honorary Member. Our active membership includes business owners, professionals, artists, and executives from Greenfield to South Hadley. We adapt to women’s busy schedules with a new, associate membership program. Our major service project is the annual “Women & Power Conference,” where the public attends a series of workshops that address varying issues that confront us all. Topics have run the gamut, from menopause to self- defense, from breaking the glass ceiling to domestic violence, and from raising non sexist children to mountain climbing. We have expanded our service activities to include advocacy on women’s issues, through community education and through letter writing campaigns. We continue to donate our valuable time and money to many local causes. These include soliciting food donations for Bosnia, cooking at the Children’s Aid & Family Service’s picnic, wrapping Christmas presents for the VNA, painting faces for CDH at the annual “Taste of Northampton,” and selling raffle tickets to benefit Necessities/Necessidades, the local battered women’s shelter.

We are confident that our numbers will continue to steadily increase as long as we follow four rules: keep our business meetings fast-paced and fun-filled; focus on the service work that we love; facilitate the networking that we need; and maintain the international focus that inspires us.