Today, February 17, is National PTA’s Founders’ Day. It is a time for us to celebrate our 117 years of existence, to remember the hard work and determination of the women who created the association to promote child welfare, and to look toward the future as we carry their vision forward. As we approach our founding day, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the history of PTA as an advocacy association, determined to speak for every child with one voice.
In 1897, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst organized the first gathering of the National Congress of Mothers in Washington, D.C. Mobilizing at a time when women did not have the right to vote, the two nevertheless knew that mothers would respond to a mission meant to bolster child wellbeing. Nearly 2000 people, made up of mothers, fathers, teachers, labor leaders, and legislators, convened in Washington, D.C. on February 17, far exceeding the attendance that the two women expected. The National Congress of Mothers soon became the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and began founding state affiliates across the country. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first Chairman of the Congress’ Advisory Committee and represented the group at both national and international functions.
Seeking to find a way to get African American parents more involved in their children’s education at a time when schools were segregated, Selena Sloan Butler formed the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) in 1911. The NCCPT began in Atlanta, Georgia, and quickly spread across many other states, advocating for better conditions for African American students. When the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, called National PTA by this time, merged with the NCCPT in 1970, Butler was named an official founder of the association and is recognized alongside Alice Birney and Phoebe Hearst as such.
Our Legacy in Leadership
As we remember PTA’s history, it is important to recognize the association’s rich legacy of advocacy. The association was founded as a vehicle in which families could promote policies protecting the best interests of their children. Since its establishment, National PTA and its affiliates have, among other things, been instrumental in successfully getting policies such as child labor protection laws, mandatory kindergarten, and school lunch programs implemented, and have fought for protecting arts education, passing fair juvenile justice laws, and crafting safe school policies.
For more information on PTA’s history of advocacy, you may view our PTA Advocacy: A Legacy in Leadership video.
PTA’s legacy of advocacy is not simply in the past. We continue our work today, seeking to promote family engagement through federal and state laws, as well as local school policies. We believe all children deserve a quality public education, support in special education, and a strong start to their academic learning with early education programs. Our state and local units do vital work every day, ranging from efforts to improve the safety of their schools and the routes to get there, to ensuring all families are welcomed and supported into the school community , to promoting healthy lifestyles by protecting recess and physical activity during the school day.
Today’s PTA continues the legacy of advocacy began by our founders over 100 years ago. Annually, PTA advocates gather in DC at the Legislative Conference to speak with their members of Congress on topics important to child welfare. State affiliates across the country host similar conferences so that PTA’s voice can be heard at the state level as well. But advocacy does not just occur at the federal and state levels once a year. Every day, National PTA, its affiliates, and its thousands of local units and millions of members work with students, families, and local communities to promote effective policies for all children. PTA members truly seek to speak up for every child with one voice.
This Founder’s Day, take a moment to consider the advocacy activities of your unit. What are you doing to carry the founders’ mission forward?
Want to advocate on behalf of every child? Consider attending the National PTA Legislative Conference, March 11-13, 2014. Attendees learn new skills, meet other PTA Advocate, and end the conference meeting with their members of Congress.