In the late 1800s women weren't allowed yet to vote in elections, and thus it would seem that they wouldn't be able to wield the political power needed to bring about change. The conventional wisdom of the time was soon to be challenged, however, by two women who first founded National PTA's predecessor, the National Congress of Mothers. On February 17, 1897, the two founders, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, looked out at the 2,000 people from across the country who gathered for the Mothers Congress' first meeting in Washington, DC, and saw the beginning of the largest (and now oldest) volunteer organization that works exclusively on behalf of children and youth--a group of people who had even fewer rights at the time than women.
Alice McLellan Birney
Alice McLellan Birney (1858-1907) was a cofounder of the National Congress of Mothers, which later became the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, or National PTA.
She was born in Marietta, Georgia, completed high school at 15, and attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
At 18, she married Alonzo J. White, a lawyer from Charleston, South Carolina. He died within the year, leaving her an expectant mother. While rearing her daughter, Mrs. Birney studied medicine. When financial difficulties forced her to abandon this course and earn a living, she entered the advertising business and was an unqualified success.
Fourteen years following White’s death, she married Theodore Weld Birney, a lawyer practicing in Washington, D.C. They had two daughters.
Mrs. Birney wrote "In the child and in our treatment of him rests the solution of the problems which confront the state and society today."
Extremely well-read and sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate, Mrs. Birney aspired to build a better world for children. With her husband's support, she first presented her plan at an adult education center in Chautauqua, New York, in 1895. Then, in 1897, she met Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who helped her transform her plan into a reality. It was a success from the start.
Mrs. Birney served as president of the new organization until 1902.
Selena Sloan Butler
Selena Sloan Butler -- Founder and first president of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) to function in states that legally mandated segregation. In 1970 the congress united with the National PTA. Today, Mrs. Butler is considered a cofounder of the National PTA.
Mrs. Butler, mother, teacher and wife of the outstand physician, Dr. Henry R. Butler of Atlanta, Georgia, was a pioneer in the work of the improvement of racial relations, espceially the rights of children. In spite of National Congress of Parents and Teachers mission to protect the rights of all children irrespective of color, Mrs. Butler believed more needed to be done.
In 1919, Butler dedicated her life to forming an organization which would have the same objectives as the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. She wrote several letters encouraging parents and teachers of color to form a union with the primary purpose of uniting home and school into a planned program for child welfare. Her letters stimulated interest in the parent-teacher movement and her own state, Georgia, became the first to organize. By 1926, Mrs. Butler aroused sufficient interest and issued the first call for convention. To this call, four states responded and sent delegates.
In 1919 the Yonge Street Parent-Teacher Association was the first unit of the Georgia Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (the precursor of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers).
Her letter writing technique inspired President Hoover to apoint her to serve on his 1929 White House Conference on Child Health and Protection representing the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers and working on the Committee on "The Infant an Preschool Child," whose work contributed to the writing of the "Children's Chapter."
Mrs. Butler lived to enjoy and participate actively in the work of this organization for more than thirty years.
After working 50 years apart, NCCPT and the National Congress of Parents and Teachers united in 1970 to expand their outreach. Today, Selena Sloan Butler is considered one of National PTA's founders.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst
Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919) helped to establish the National Congress of Mothers in 1897, which later became the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, or National PTA.
Born to pioneering parents in Franklin county, Missouri, she attended a one-room log cabin school. She completed her education in St. James and became a teacher at the age of 16. In St. James, she met and married George Hearst of San Francisco and moved to California. THe fortune Hearst built enabled Mrs. Hearst to transform many of her dreams into realities.
Mrs. Hearst was especially concerned about school training for the very young. As a parent of one sone and as a teacher, she realized that a child's early education could determine his entire future. In 1883 she founded on of the first gree kindergartens, which she supported with her time and money. She formed seven in all - first in San Francisco, and then in Washington, D.C., where the Hearsts later lived.
When her husband died and she took control of his empire, education remained her foremost interest, for she believed that only through education could there be a lasting improvement in human welfare.
National PTA Milestones
1897 First meeting of National Congress of Mothers February 17-19, Washington, D.C...200 expected ; 2,000 attended...Speakers: educational and philanthropic leaders of the day...Founders Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst elected president and first vice president respectively...Another vice president was Mrs. Adlai E. Stevenson (wife of U.S. vice-president)...Mrs. Grover Cleveland gave reception at White House...First state congress, New York, organized.
1898-99 - The Congress promotes cooperation between parents and teachers; advocates for sex education; and lobbies for a national health bureau.
1900s Fathers urged to join. PTA already voicing public concern for juvenile justice issues and the need for child labor laws, as well as federal aid to schools.
1910s PTA urges that kindergarten be part of the education system. PTA also asks parents to supervise their children's attendance at moving pictures. Local PTAs serve hot lunches to children.
1914- National convention included Third International Congress on the Welfare of the Child...Committee on child hygiene started campaign to arouse public interest in reducing infant mortality...Extension of teaching speech to deaf infants was the special concern of another committee.
1920s The National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers is formed to serve children in segregated states. PTA begins a nationwide children's health project and is involved in the first university courses in school-home relations.
1924 - Adopted new name - National Congress of Parents and Teachers...Sponsored and financed program in North Dakota and Nebraska to show what concerted PTA effort could accomplish...Began crusade against illiteracy...Parent-teacher association organized in Brazil.
1930s A special nutrition project and emergency services prevent children from suffering during the Great Depression. PTA studies automobile and school bus safety as they relate to children.
1936 - Traffic safety education project started with grant from Automotive Safety Foundation...Bylaws amendment grouped state congresses into 8 regions, with a national vice-president to be elected from each...Radio forum conducted: 35 talks by specialists on such topics as "Heredity or Environment" and "Important Variations in Infants and Children."
1940s PTA launches nationwide school lunch program. PTA becomes one of the first nongovermental organizations to support the establishment of the United Nations.
1941 - Special committee on community school lunch appointed and school lunch program inaugurated on nationwide basis... Nine-point Permanent Platform adopted...NCPT President served as member of findings committee for Emergency Safety Conference called by U.S. President...More than 900,000 men members in a total of about 2.5 million...President proclaimed October as PTA Membership Month...1941 NCCPT convention theme, "The Place of the PTA in the Total National Defense Program" ...NCCPT emphasized instruction for all leaders; programs for such training set up at convention meetings...NCPT arranged for NCCPT to purchase NCPT parent-teacher manuals and rural service leaflets at cost, and a financial grant was made for extension purposes and printing.
1950s PTA calls a national conference to address narcotics and drug addiction in youth. PTA helps field-test and win support for the Salk Polio Vaccine and promotes health supervision of children from early childhood through high school.
1958 - Mrs. James C. Parker elected NCPT president; participated in U.S. Government "people-to-people" mission in South America; appointed to overall committee for 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth; attended WCOTP meeting, Rome...Special pamphlet, Looking In on Your School, published in response to U.S. President's assignment to PTAs to scrutinize school programs...PTAs worked effectively for passage of National Defense Education Act of 1958...European Congress of American Parents and Teachers organized as 52nd branch...Statement of principles adopted to replace permanent platform...General revision of national bylaws.
1960s PTA creates public message about the dangerous effects of smoking; helps enact child protection and toy safety legislation; promotes art education via a nationwide cultural arts program; and creates a new focus on home-school relations in low-income areas.
1965 - Books for Appalachia project sponsored at request of U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity; more than a million books shipped to mountain schools...Convention resolutions on the rights of citizens, financial support of the public schools, control of stimulant and depressant drugs, and moral responsibility of the mass media...Publication of leaflet Extremist Groups: A Clear and Present Danger to Freedom and Democracy received nationwide mass media coverage...NCPT president elected a vice-president of IUFO; attended IUFO meeting, Rome, and WCOTP meeting, Addis Ababa; elected vice-chairman of Conference of National Organizations...Second conference with juvenile court judges, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; third, Milwaukee, Wisconsin...NCPT again host for Workshop of Educational Organizations...Held pilot conference on safety, Seattle, Washington...Started pilot projects based on Children's Emotional Health in 3 state congresses...Published Highlight Series #6, The City School: Problems and Prospects, which won The PTA Magazine its third School Bell Award, and PTA Guide to What's Happening in Education...Cosponsored publication of Guide to a School Pedestrian Safety Program...NCPT memberships: 11,992,726.
1970s National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers and National Congress of Parents and Teachers unite to become one organization; PTA expands outreach to combat alcohol abuse; calls for parents to share in decision making in schools' begins a project to oppose violence on television; opens the Office of Governmental Relations in Washington, DC; and invites students to sit on the National PTA Board of Directors.
1974 - New action program, "Every Child Needs You"...Convention delegates voted to increase national portion of members' dues from 10 cents annually to 20 cents (effective April 1, 1975)...Board of Managers voted to discontinue The PTA Magazine with November issue...NCPT, with grant from Sears, Roebuck and Co., held conference to set up 5 pilot projects on school absenteeism...NCPT and March of Dimes cosponsored "Parenting--A PTA Priority" conferences in several regions...NCPT president was member of U.S. Education delegation sent on study visit to U.S.S.R. by U.S. Office of Education and Department of State; also attended Intergovernmental Conference on Teacher Policies, in Paris, sponsored by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development...18 state PTAs awarded alcohol education grants, financed by NIAAA.
1980s PTA fights for automobile safety belt and child restraint legislation; creates a drug/alcohol abuse prevention project; focuses more attention on children and families in the inner cities; and creates national HIV/AIDS education program for parents.
1989 - Ann T. Lynch elected president...Develops free Math Matters kits for elementary, junior high, and middle school PTAs...Publishes National PTA Talks to Parents: How to Get the Best Education for Your Child...PTA Today Magazine receives Educational Press Association of America's awards for the Best Theme Issue and the Best Feature Article of the Year...PTA receives $1 million grant from GTE Foundation to address the issue of drug and alcohol prevention ...Center for Disease Control grant renewed; PTA leads the nation in preparing materials for parents on the latest social concern-AIDS...National Convention held in Atlanta, Georgia.
1990s PTA convenes a national summit of parent involvement; becomes a major force in adding parental involvement to National Education Goals; develops National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement in cooperation with educational and parent involvement professionals; initiates nationwide campaign to protect children from violence; forges partnerships with other nation groups to promote parent involvement in early childhood education and teacher education; celebrates 100th anniversary; launches Building Successful Partnerships parent involvement initiative.
1997 - National PTA celebrates 100th anniversary with Washington, D.C. gala...Standards for developing and evaluating effective parent involvement programs are published and released by National PTA...Tipper Gore is a keynote speaker at National PTA’s Legislative Conference...National PTA succeeds in getting content information included in TV ratings...Lois Jean White is inaugurated as the first African-American president of the National PTA...Lois Jean White embarks on national media tour and receives significant national press coverage .
Ways to Celebrate Founders' Day
Some ideas about how your PTA can celebrate this day are as follows: