Friday, November 8, 2019

Zonta Club of Elmira at 100 Years

Zonta International is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2019. The Zonta Club of Elmira was one of the organization’s first clubs established in 1919. For the last hundred years, the club has served our local community, sponsoring activities for children, awarding scholarships, and working with other charitable organizations.

Zonta Conference at the Mark Twain Hotel, 1959
Photo courtesy of Elmira Zonta
On November 8, 1919, the Confederation of Zonta Clubs was founded in Buffalo, New York. Representatives from Elmira were there for the creation of the first five clubs. The Zonta Club of Elmira was made up of women who had been members of the Elmira Business Women’s Club and it had 18 charter members. Zonta was created as a club for professional and executive business women. Membership was based on business classification, similar to men’s clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis, with two women per job description being allowed in the club. Zonta International’s job book lists more than 11,000 classifications.

Elmira/Southport Cinderella softball team sponsored by Zonta
Photo courtesy of Elmira Zonta
From the very beginning, the local Zonta Club has lived up to the code: “To honor my work and to consider it an opportunity for service.” In the same year it was founded, the club hosted a Christmas party at the Home for the Aged. In the 1920s, it became involved in Near East and European Relief Funds and hosted a celebration for the wives, daughters, sisters, and children of immigrants who had become naturalized citizens.

Zonta has supported legislation concerning the welfare of women and children through the years and has held “baby showers” to collect items to support the Southern Tier Pregnancy Resource Center.

The club also awards scholarships to Chemung County students who are planning to attend college or graduate school during the following year. The student’s record of community service is one of the most important factors in deciding who will receive the scholarships.

Zonta Club bicentennial parade float, 1976
Photo courtesy of Elmira Zonta
In 1965, Elmira’s Zonta Club announced its intention to establish a boarding house for retired members who were in need of decent, inexpensive housing. Three years later, it purchased the building at 742 W. First Street, which had previously operated as a nursing home. By the time the Zonta House officially opened in 1972, new subsidized apartments had reduced the need for housing, but it served as the headquarters for the club. Elmira’s Zonta House is the only one of its kind in the United States. The club continues to use the house for weekly meetings and monthly public lectures. The club also runs the Ida V. Shop on the property.

The Zonta House, 742 w. First Street, Elmira
Photo courtesy of Elmira Zonta

Learn more about the Zonta Club of Elmira at their website and on their Facebook page.  

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Extraordinary Life of Dr. Regina Flood Keyes Roberts

by Erin Doane, Curator

Regina Flood Keyes was born in Elmira on April 18, 1870. At that time, few people would have guessed that her life would include time as a field surgeon in war-torn Europe and as a humanitarian worker in Fiji and Samoa. And it is highly unlikely that anyone would have predicted that she would die at sea during a prisoner exchange with Japan.

Dr. Regina Flood Keyes, 1917
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Regina graduated from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in 1896. She worked for Buffalo General Hospital as a gynecologist in 1899 and was the first woman to ever do abdominal surgery in the city. She went on to work as an obstetrician at Erie County Hospital and as an instructor in medicine at the University of Buffalo. In 1917, after the United States became involved in World War I, she took a leave of absence to join the American Red Cross and was sent to Europe to take charge of a hospital in the Balkans with her cousin from Elmira Dr. Mabel Flood

Dr. Regina Flood Keyes (left) and Dr. Mabel Flood (center)
treating a patient, 1919. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The hospital had been a Turkish schoolhouse before being renovated into a hospital and when the pair arrived, it was woefully lacking in basic supplies. It had no operating table, beds, or stove and very few medical supplies. With Regina as director and surgeon and Mabel as chief doctor, they were able to build the facility up until it was one of the best-respected hospitals in the region. They treated both locals and war-wounded and worked through flu and typhus epidemics. Regina even served the French Army for a time as a regimental surgeon.

American Red Cross workers, 1919. Dr. Keyes is seated in the
front row, third from the left. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Both women stayed in Europe after the war until 1920. Mabel returned to the United States and Regina married Quincy F. Roberts who was serving as the U.S. vice-consul in Thessaloniki. From then on, she accompanied him around the world on his diplomatic missions. He served as vice-consul in Samoa and then in Fiji where he was promoted to consul. Every place they lived, Regina was involved in local healthcare and child welfare work. Her position as wife of the consul helped her bring in aid money, but she was also personally involved in organizing projects to help women and children. She was so respected in Samoa that the chief of the island adopted her into the royal family in recognition of her service.

When World War II broke out in the Pacific, Regina and her husband were living in Chefoo, China, where he was serving as U.S. consul, and they were interned by the Japanese. They were among the approximately 3,000 American citizens caught in the war zone. In May 1942, an agreement was made between the warring powers for the exchange of women and children and men over the age of 60 who were considered non-combatants for Japanese women, children, and elderly men. The exchange would take place at the port of Lourenco Marques, Portuguese East Africa.

On June 29, 1942, the Italian liner Conte Verde set sail from Shanghai, China with 924 North and South Americans aboard. Among them was Dr. Regina Flood Keyes Roberts. The trip from China to East Africa was expected to take three weeks but on July 10, Regina died. There was no cause of death in any of the newspaper reports that I found. She was simply reported as “stricken.” According to the inscription on a memorial stone in Woodlawn Cemetery, she was buried at sea at Lat. 5 degrees south, Long. 106 degrees 43 minutes east.

Memorial stone in Woodlawn Cemetery, 2019