Honoring Zonta's History

Written by Lois Bauccio
Thanks to Nickie Bonner for help in writing this article

We Zontians love our yellow rose, don't we? It's our most precious gift for one another. We give it to new members. We give it to honored leaders and esteemed guests and present it to celebrate achievements. It's our decorative choice for centerpieces, bouquets and corsages. We use images of the yellow rose on our web site, in our newsletter, and in printed collateral. At conferences and conventions we find it everywhere. It means so much to us.

We love its beauty. Besides being beautiful, though, the yellow rose also has a rich symbolic history. The language of flowers has been recognized for centuries in many countries throughout Europe and Asia. Yellow is the only rose, for example, that is not symbolic of romantic love. In Shakespeare's time, the yellow rose even had a negative connotation. Throughout the centuries, however, the symbolic meaning of the yellow rose has evolved to its current symbolism. Today, the yellow rose means FRIENDSHIP, joy and caring. It conveys warmth, delight, gladness and affection. A bouquet of yellow roses says, "good luck", "welcome back", and "remember me".

The yellow rose also has a special place in American history that has relevance to Zontians in this country.After decades of work by the American suffragists, by the middle of 1920, the movement had found a way to get Congress to approve the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote -- with the endorsement of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson (who hadn't supported it until it became needed as part of the war effort). The problem was, that while a total of 35 states had voted to ratify, 36 states were required for ratification.The eyes of the suffragists and the nation turned to Tennessee, the only remaining state that hadn't rejected the amendment at the time. Many other states had given their women the voting right, but without Tennessee, the chance to reach the three-quarters of states required to amend the constitution providing for the national right seemed improbable.

At the statehouse in Nashville, members of the Tennessee legislature had created a code revealing their intended vote to the public. Those who were anti-suffragists wore a red rosebud in their lapels. The pro-suffragists wore a yellow rose. One young politician, Harry T. Burn, just 24-years old, wore a red rose to let the rest of the statesmen who were powerful anti-suffrage forces know he was on the "right" side. Word of her son's choice reached his mother who wrote him a now-famous letter admonishing him to "be a good boy" and help the suffragists. When the vote came to the floor,he changed his vote, and the suffragists won. He later said, "I knew that a mother's advice is always safest for a boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification. I appreciated the fact that an opportunity such as seldom comes to a mortal man to free 17 million women from political slavery was mine."

If the rose "code" had not existed, ratification might not have been passed for many more years. We can picture those early Zontians who had created their club just a year and a half earlier, reading about the happenings in Tennessee and adopting the yellow rose as Zonta's symbol. They could see that it would be a fitting representation – something meaningful to strong and professional women who would "provide service to humanity through cooperative efforts".

Since 1999, the yellow rose was the inspiration and the symbol of Zonta Rose Day which falls on March 8th, coinciding with International Women's Day. On this special day, Zontians worldwide are encouraged to publicly distribute yellow roses or items bearing the image of yellow roses, accompanied by information about Zonta International and issues relating to improving the lives of women locally and globally.

An official "Zonta Rose" was introduced at the 1984 Sydney Convention. The renowned England-based nursery, Harness Roses, worked to cultivate the flower, while Zontian Maureen Ross of Ross Roses in Adelaide, Australia enabled it to be introduced at the Convention.

You can purchase your own Zonta rose bush, which goes by the name of "Bright Lights", here in the United States. Whether you buy a bush or a bouquet, think of Zonta on March 8th and remember that it coincides with International Women's Day.

Remember also, that there are many women throughout the world who do not share in the rights, safety and opportunities that we too often take for granted. At the same time also look closer for problems of women and girls in need; look right here in our own community.