PTA: Women Before The Vote
Brought to FEN by National PTA®, in celebration of Women's History Month.
PTA now a household word came into being in 1897 as a result of the hard work and far-reaching influence of some of the most accomplished women of the day. Phoebe Apperson Hearst and Alice McLellan Birney, the founders of the association, originally christened the association the National Congress of Mothers.
These women were well-educated and had no reason to believe they could not accomplish great things. Their ambitions for the new association were unbounded. Mrs. Birney made that clear when she wrote in 1898, "The National Congress of Mothers, irrespective of creed, color, or condition, stands for all parenthood, childhood, homehood. Its platform is the universe; its organization, the human race."
This commitment was also embraced by Selena Sloan Butler, who, with the support of the National PTA, founded a sister organization in 1926, the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. When the two organizations merged in 1970, so did their identical mission to improve the lives of children.
One of the most remarkable things about the PTA is what its members, mainly women, were able to accomplish before the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote. Following is a snapshot of what the PTA achieved in its fledgling years before 1920. You can find out more about the PTA's visionary founders and its year-by-year milestones on the National PTA® website. To find out how the PTA was actually formed, read a sample chapter from the commemorative book, The PTA Story: A Century of Commitment to Children.
Milestones in PTA History
- 1897: First meeting of National Congress of Mothers February 17-19, in Washington, D.C...200 expected; 2,000 attend...Speakers include educational and philanthropic leaders of the day...First Lady Mrs. Grover Cleveland gives a reception at the White House.
- 1899: PTA petitions U.S. Congress for a National Health Bureau (14 years before creation of U.S. Public Health Service)...Advocates for extension of juvenile court and probation system.
- 1900: Theodore Roosevelt accepts appointment as chairman of Advisory Council of the National Congress of Mothers (he served until 1919)...Suggest legislation for protection of employed children; publishes booklets on sex education.
- 1905: At request of National Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt endorses juvenile court and probation system in his message to U.S. Congress...PTA advocates for federal aid for kindergartens and elementary schools and recommended salary increase for teachers.
- 1906: National Congress of Mothers Magazine (forerunner of Our Children magazine; first issued...Pure Food Bill, supported by PTA, becomes law.
- 1908: Importance of parent-teacher partnership recognized in name change to National Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations...PTA hosts First International Congress on the Welfare of the Child; invitations sent by U.S. State Department bring representatives from 12 countries on 4 continents...PTA joins movement to combat TB.
- 1910: PTA advocates for supervision of motion pictures and vaudeville by local organizations because of their influence on children and youth...PTA grows to 20 state branches.
- 1911: PTA recommends kindergarten be made part of the public school system; works to establish a separate home education division in the U.S. Bureau (now Office) of Education.
- 1912: PTA's sponsor hot lunch projects in many schools...U.S. Children's Bureau, long advocated by PTA, established.
- 1916: Convention urged automatic sprinklers in schools, in addition to fire escapes; PTA recommends wise, effective method of censoring moving pictures.
- 1919: Members urged to enroll in citizenship and government study classes "before the suffrage amendment will be law"...Rehabilitation of World War I servicemen a special concern ...Promoted and attended White House Conference on Child Welfare Standards.
- 1920: PTA backs bill for universal physical education in public schools and recommends every state establish schools for deaf children...PTA supports 37 state branches.
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