Chapter 9. Honoring the Legacy of our Founders: Committing to Today’s Children
(Chapters 1-8 can be accessed online at http://papta.org/Legacy or in previous issues of PTA in Pennsylvania.)
The passing of time may cause us to forget the incredible leaders who came before us. But only if we allow that to happen. This series of articles on the founding of the National PTA showed us that passionate women were able to make seismic shifts in the landscape of children’s lives. Their will was toughened by almost insurmountable challenges, but they continued to push the boundaries and make sure American’s children were priorities in a country that was changing faster than one could imagine. The terrific trio—who we often call Alice, Phoebe, and Selena—are never to be forgotten, but rather, to be the inspiration for challenges undertaken by today’s PTA leaders.
In 1910, Mary Grinnell Mears, a charter member and board member of the National Congress of Mothers, presented a motion in Denver that Founders’ Day be observed on February 17th of each year. The action took two years to be ratified and the name Founders’ Day became interchangeable with Child Welfare Day for many years. February 17 is an important day on the calendar for all PTA members and should be observed by every local unit, council, and state in the country. It continues to show us that the PTA is a powerful voice for children, resource for parents, and advocate for public education. During my PTA tenure, Founders’ Day was an exciting time for PTAs where banquets were held, skits were performed, leaders were honored, PTA pins were proudly worn, and the story of the dream for children was told over and over again. Is that still happening in your PTA? If not, what better way to commit to today’s children than by reintroducing the observance of Founders’ Day this year?
Magnificent national memorials have been dedicated to the PTA Founders, a few are outlined below.
¨ There are numerous public facilities named specifically for Phoebe Apperson Hearst, from a library in South Dakota to an elementary school in Louisiana. Mrs. Hearst was the first woman appointed to the University of California Board of Regents and supported the university over the years. The Hearst Gymnasium was built by her son as a memorial to her. The Hearst Museum of Anthropology is likewise her namesake, honoring her commitment to the many programs of the university. (Source: The Berkeley Daily Planet, April 20, 2011)
¨ A magnificent stained glass window is dedicated to Alice McLellan Birney and is located in the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Among the hundreds of windows there, her window shows a sun shining over what resembles a schoolhouse, alphabet letters, and children stationed below. (Source: District of Columbia PTA photo gallery)
¨ On September 27, 1942, a memorial was dedicated by family members and PTA officers at the place of Alice McLellan Birney’s birth in Marietta, GA. Present were National PTA leaders, Alice’s oldest daughter, granddaughter, great-grand daughter, and sister. The memorial was constructed on the site of Marietta High School. A sundial sits in the center of a courtyard paved with marble slabs, each carrying the name of the state congress by which it was contributed. An inscription on the sundial reads, “This sun court is dedicated to a great woman who made a great dream come true: Alice Birney, founder of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers. From the seed of faith she planted has come the flowering of a new era of hope and promise for America’s children.” In 1963, a new rose garden was added by the Marietta Men’s Garden Club which assumed responsibility for planting and upkeep of the memorial. The Plaza of States remains central, composed of the stone slabs contributed by the state congresses as of 1942. (Source: Founders Day, February 17, 1964, National Congress of Parents and Teachers)
¨ In recognition of Selena Sloan Butler’s lifelong work in education, in 1976 the Georgia Department of Education commissioned a portrait of Butler to hang in the state capitol. In 1995, she was inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement. (Source: Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, Selena Sloan Butler papers)
These memorials were tremendous undertakings that beg for a family road trip. However, the Founders’ work can be put to this test. Has it been worthwhile? From the day Alice Birney shopped around her dream, she opened doors for children that beg to be opened even wider. That’s where our commitment to the legacy is challenged. What will your PTA do to celebrate Founders’ Day on February 17? Some ideas are as follows:
¨ Tell the story as inspiration for young leaders who don’t know about the history of the PTA. Publish it in your newsletter, integrate it at your next PTA meeting, or plan a skit with children in your school. The story is documented in these articles online for easy reference.
¨ Invite all past PTA presidents to attend a special meeting and reminisce about the most exciting thing to happen with the PTA during their tenure.
¨ Challenge students to create a school display, mural, or posters. PTA Historical Milestones are printed online and would be a great basis for the artwork. Work with a creative teacher to integrate it in the curriculum.
¨ Ask local merchants to include PTA Founders’ Day messages in their bags—then get them designed and printed for distribution!
¨ Celebrate diversity by revisiting the merger of the National PTA after the courts called for the desegregation of schools.
¨ Celebrate the history of your own PTA with displays and a birthday cake.
¨ Honor a special PTA member who has gone “above and beyond” with a Pennsylvania PTA Honorary Life Membership Award. Contact the state PTA office for details.
¨ Recommit to greater advocacy efforts by signing up members for Action Alerts or visiting with a local legislator to discuss education and child-related issues.
¨ Create service awards as an incentive for increased volunteerism in your school and launch them on Founders’ Day.
There are many simple ways we can carry on the spirit of the founders whose relentless will can only be matched by current leaders if they are willing to examine what is really at risk for today’s children. There are many pages missing in this chronicle of the PTA’s glorious history. Those pages are left blank for you—today’s leaders who know what’s missing for kids. Let’s celebrate in some small way this Founders’ Day and embody the commitment and legacy bequeathed to each of us.