A brief History: Working Together for Children since 1897

One hundred years ago Alice McLellan Birney said, “Let us have no more croaking as to what cannot be done; let us see what can be done, and above all see that it is done.” That brisk philosophy still drives the PTA today. While the methods may change to make us more responsive to the demands of an electronic era, the underlying principle does not – “everychild. onevoice.”

The National PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer association working exclusively on behalf of all children and youth. For more than 100 years, the National PTA has promoted the education, health, and safety of children, youth, and families.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst and Alice McLellan Birney were greatly concerned about the nation’s children. The United States was feeling the enormous impact of the Industrial Revolution. An immense wave of immigration was flowing into the country. Children worked in factories, in mines, and in the streets of the cities. Some could not attend school or obtain enough food to eat. What could be done?

The First Meeting Is Held — 1897
After extensive grassroots work in different parts of the nation, the two women met in 1895 and, through diligent efforts, planned a meeting to bring their idea to others. On February 17, 1897, that meeting was held, and more than 2,000 men and women surprised Phoebe Hearst and Alice Birney by filling the hall in Washington, D.C. The National Congress of Mothers was formed, and the work of the founders took on new meaning and strength.

The California Movement Grows — 1902
Similar concerns were felt in California, and the California Home and School Child Study Association was organized in San Francisco, followed in 1900 by the Los Angeles Federation of Mothers’ Clubs. In 1902, California joined the national organization as the California Congress of Mothers and Study Circles, later becoming the California Congress of Parents, Teachers, and Students, Inc. — the California State PTA. Meanwhile, growing in strength and numbers, the National PTA progressed remarkably in working for all children.

Alice McLellan Birney
A native of Georgia, this motivated woman had wide interests but deep devotion to her own children. She felt the needs of all children must be recognized as vitally important to everyone. As a mother, Alice Birney realized it was important to know about mental and physical health and the educational needs of her own three children. She desperately wished to impart this to other mothers and to raise the status of motherhood to the important level it deserved.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst
An energetic, educated, and philanthropic woman, well known in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, Phoebe Hearst became aware of the sad plight of many of the nation’s children first as a young teacher and later as she traveled or worked unselfishly in many communities. With one son of her own, she also was godmother to and supported the education of scores of children.

Selena Sloan Butler
A dedicated community leader and teacher, Selena Butler worked diligently in Atlanta, GA, to unify parents and teachers for the advancement of child welfare and education. She founded not only her school’s

Parent-Teacher Association, but the Georgia Parent-Teacher Association, and in 1926, the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers.

Our PTA Founders’ Vision

Alice McLellan Birney, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and Selena Sloan Butler knew there was no stronger bond than that between mother and child. To the mothers, then, they reasoned, must fall the responsibility for eliminating the threats that endangered the children. They called for action, and people responded — mothers, yes, but also fathers, teachers, laborers, and legislators — all with a commitment to children.

In her initial address on February 17, 1897, Alice Birney told the crowd, “It is my privilege to extend to each and all of you a heartfelt welcome and to express the hope that this large and gratifying audience, this more than encouraging response to our universal call, may prove in earnest of the success destined to crown the work to which our best and highest efforts are now consecrated.”

Alice Birney had appealed “to all mankind and to all womankind, regardless of race, color, or condition, to recognize that the republic’s greatest work is to save the children.” But in many states, segregated schools were legally sanctioned. To address those students’ special needs, Selena Sloan Butler founded the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. The two PTAs formally merged in 1970.

California State PTA Historical Briefs

1897  California Home and School Child Study Association organized in San Francisco.

1900s Los Angeles Federation of Mothers’ Clubs organized in Los Angeles. Name changed to California Congress of Mothers and Study Circles — affiliated with National PTA. Juvenile Court Act supported. Playground committee authorized, and student welfare program started. Legislation committee appointed.

1910s Attempt made to secure State Aid for Dependent Children. Organization became California Congress of Mothers. Penny Kitchens, forerunner of school lunch programs, established. Permissive legislation that marked beginning of kindergartens in public schools supported. Department of Child Hygiene established, and birth registration bill supported. First Child Welfare Day observed, later to become Founders Day. Name changed to California Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations. Public library services supported.

1920s Resolution regarding enforcement of laws governing sale of cigarettes to children of school age adopted. Juvenile protection committee created. California Parent-Teacher magazine began publication, including approved film lists. Name changed to California Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc. Honorary Life Membership project adopted in 1927 to provide funds for student loans.

1930s Legislation on education of migrant children supported.

1940s Legislation for creation of California Youth Authority endorsed. Teacher Education Scholarships established, first of continuing program of scholarships in addition to student loan program. Legislation for teachers’ salary schedule, apportionment of school funds as well as increased funding for all levels were supported. First home-school relationship conference co-sponsored with University of California, Berkeley, School of Education and State Department of Education. Adopted CARE projects.

1950s State office moved to Tenth District PTA Health Center on 21st Street, Los Angeles. Salk polio vaccine program supported. Five teacher recruitment clinics co-sponsored with State Department of Education. Thirty-week television program on child growth and development sponsored. Administrator’s Packet of Parent-Teacher Information distributed to all principals and school superintendents.

1960s Cooperation with Colleges committee established. New State headquarters building opened November 1, 1961, in Los Angeles, with dedication in March 1962. “Paging Parents” TV series produced in cooperation with Los Angeles County Schools. “Suggestions for Conducting a Venereal Disease Study-Action Program” published. Thirteen radio tapes on education developed in cooperation with California Teachers Association. Spanish language tapes, “How to Prepare Your Child for School,” prepared in cooperation with State Department of Education. Thirty-one junior colleges granted $200 each to establish Student Emergency Loan Funds. Continuing Service Award established by convention delegates. Joined in organizing California Interagency Council on Drug Abuse. Honorary Life Membership changed by convention delegates to Honorary Service Award in 1969. California Parent-Teacher magazine discontinued. Home-school-community relations conference held with grant from Sears Roebuck Foundation; Human Relations Handbook published.

1970s School feeding program survey conducted. Statement on Environmental Pollution adopted. Material prepared and distributed to promote Project RISE. Children’s Emotional Health conference co-sponsored with California Interagency Mental Health Council. Twenty-acre PTA Redwood Grove in Prairie Creek State Park dedicated. Inter-district mass media committees organized to preview and monitor TV and motion pictures. “California State PTA” adopted as alternate name for California Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc. Contributed over $7,000 toward State Park Wildflower Poppy Preserve. Administered Community Volunteer Project in Pomona and “Person-to-Person Intervention in Alcohol Abuse.” Adopted commission structure, Bicentennial project (furnishing schoolhouse in Old Sacramento), Antiviolence TV project, parenting conferences, Comprehensive Health Education program, and commemorated 50 of the years Honorary Service Award (HSA) program. Name changed to California Congress of Parents, Teachers, and Students, Inc. (retained California State PTA). Convention delegates sent “Message to the Governor” urging public school finance be made top priority. With State Department of Education, developed “A Guide to School and Community Action.” Co-sponsored “Starting a Healthy Family” with National March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

1980s Completed Student Health Education Forums. Launched TV Viewing Skills Project. Began community meetings on motion pictures in cooperation with theater owners. Urged revision of state tax structure for public education. Established Grants for Parent Education and Health Projects. Completed Juvenile Justice System study. Developed Room Representative Orientation Program to improve home-school communication. Took leadership role in enactment of Educational Reform Act. Began scholarships for school nurses. First membership increase in 15 years. Completed three-year PTA/American Cancer Society Project. Developed “Parent’s Notebook” skill sheets. Cooperated in KNBC-TV/PTA Teenage Alcohol Prevention Project. Leadership and parent involvement program designed with Southwest Regional Laboratory, “Hispanic Recruitment Project.” Provided PTAs with resources to develop school/community disaster preparedness plans and the parent involvement in reading program. Largest membership increase in 27 years! Developed PTA Public Relations video and guidelines for “Involving the Uninvolved.” Launched a comprehensive Parenting Project funded by statewide fundraising campaign (trivia game). Developed “Strive for Excellence,” a self-esteem program for kindergarten students. Reaffirmed commitment to parent education and outreach to parents of increasingly diverse student populations. Received National PTA grant for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) education.

1990s Developed a “Kids At Risk” legislation agenda. Participated in the Red Ribbon campaign against the use of alcohol and other drugs. Promoted Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) education. Sponsored legislation to require all school districts to adopt a parent involvement policy. Introduced Parents Empowering Parents, a parent education and involvement manual developed by PTA with grant funds from California businesses. Published Spanish edition as Los Padres Eligen Participar. Developed plans for a statewide parenting conference. Developed and awarded the first Golden Oak Award. Participated in a major statewide effort to defeat a voucher proposal. Sponsored legislation to ban Channel One from California classrooms and to add a component on working with parents to the teacher and administrator credentials curricula. Cosponsored the California Bicycle Helmet Safety Campaign with the California Department of Health Services. Received grant from Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Initiative V Project for Math for All program to teach K-3 parents how to help children with math. Developed “Open the School House Doors” Project, an Action Guide for its implementation, and a Mentor Training Program. Produced a video, “California State PTA – A Voice For All Children.” Published “PTA Questions the Candidates for California Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction.” Developed “Outreach: Beyond the International Potluck.” “Parent Talk” cards produced. Developed a statewide campaign to reduce the size of California classrooms in grades one through three. Celebrated the 100th birthday of PTA in 1997 by participating in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade – winning the Sweepstakes Award for the float entry, “The Field Trip.” Launched the California State PTA Internet website www.capta.org and issued a statewide progress report on the reduction of class size in California public schools. Completed development of and unveiled a Strategic Plan for California State PTA. Opened Satellite Office in Sacramento. Hosted a statewide videoconference at 100th Convention in Sacramento: “Keeping Youth Safe: The Critical After-School Hours.”

2000s Established as a PTA priority and initiated “SMARTS – Bring Back the Arts” campaign to bring arts back to the schools, the community, and to children. Sponsored legislation to bring arts back to the schools; worked to defeat voucher initiative and pass an initiative to require 55% majority for passage of school bond initiatives. Held statewide parenting conferences focused on training parents to be effective advocates. Established Cultural Arts grants for unit, council, and district PTAs and the Leadership Development scholarship. Consolidated several PTA publications into a single resource, the California State PTA Toolkit. Purchased Sacramento historical residence for cost-saving advocate and officer housing for events and policy maker contact. Purchased office space and moved California State PTA headquarters to Sacramento after almost 50 years in Los Angeles. Provided training for PTA leaders at “PTA University.” Funding for arts education and reduction of childhood obesity continue to be priorities. Membership continues strong at nearly one million members.

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