The Iowa PTA was founded in 1900 by Cora Bussey Hillis. It was incorporated in 1940 in Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa, as the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers (Iowa PTA). The records of incorporation are on file at the Iowa PTA Office.
Cora Bussey, the daughter of Cyrus and Ellen Kiser Bussey, was born in Bloomfield, Iowa, on August 8, 1858. In 1875 young Cora was graduated from Sylvester Larned Institute, and in 1880 was married to Isaac Lea Hillis, a graduate of the law school of the University of Michigan. The couple lived in New Orleans for several years, and in 1884 they moved to Des Moines. In 1899 Cora Hillis attended the Third National Congress of Mothers in Washington, DC, as a state delegate. She later wrote about her experience at the convention:
There I heard presented by experts the problems of the children; of the needless sin and suffering in the world caused by untrained parenthood; of neglected childhood and preventable, adverse social and economic conditions. Then and there I dedicated my life to this service, and determined henceforth to use my strength and influence in this cause. I was as but a drop in the ocean, I knew, but every human being either retards or advances progress and I wanted to add my mite to the onward push...
I was urged by the National Board to be the organizer for Iowa. I hesitated. I could never tell you of my overwhelming sense of the sacredness of the responsibility entrusted to me. My eyes were open; I realized what it involved - sacrifice and much thankless work. Here was I, bidden to preach a new gospel to a state full of mothers, the majority of whom really believed they already knew all there was to be known about child-care. I was to work to the limit of my strength in a new cause; to overturn established procedures; to be the agitator in school affairs, and even try to overturn a century old system of Jurisprudence; introduce juvenile courts, and compel reluctant judges to turn from the business of safeguarding the almighty dollar long enough to save some little immortal child. I must do all this and yet be, in my own home, the kind of mother whose children would reflect honor on herself and her work. I was told it needed a clear-visioned far-sightedness that could look deep into the future and see coming needs; a resourcefulness to meet any present emergency that might arise, together with a tolerant spirit to work on under adverse conditions; and over all was needed an abundant love for the cause, and for humanity - love great enough to fortify against the thoughtless criticism of that ever-present class, who, doing nothing themselves, find pleasure in picking flaws in the work of others...
I told the board of directors, "I will try."
The Fourth National Congress of Mothers was held in Des Moines in 1900. It was the first time the convention was not held in Washington. It was at that convention - on Saturday, May 26, 1990 - that the Iowa Congress of Mothers (Iowa PTA) was born, with Cora Bussey Hillis as its first president.
In 1908 Governor Albert B. Cummins issued a proclamation declaring the opening day of the fourth biennial convention of the Iowa Congress of Mothers to be "Parents' Day" and asking that the convention be a challenge to the public thought upon "the training, directing and safeguarding" of child life.
By 1925, the Iowa Congress was well-recognized as an active child advocacy organization and had succeeded in convincing the legislature to create a Child Welfare Research Station to study child growth and development. Among the other issues being addressed by associations statewide were:
- State child labor laws
- Juvenile justice
- Parent education
- Raising the age of consent from 15 to 18 (raised to 16 in 1921)
- Vocational guidance for students
- Studies of the pre-school child and the adolescent child
- Abhorrence of war and the creation of public sentiment for peace
- Cooperation with superintendents of schools
- Study on school lunches
- Tobacco use by children
- Need for more public health nurses and social workers
- Vital statistics law
- Limiting interest on loans to protect low-income families
- Federal control of motion pictures
- Increasing teacher pay
- Educational standards for elementary teachers as high as those required for teachers of upper grades with equal salary
- Same salary for women teachers as for men teachers for like service
- Creation of a U.S. Department of Education and a secretary in the president's cabinet
In 1925 a special ten-week course of instruction on Parent-Teacher work was held in connection with the Fort Dodge night school. This was the first undertaking of its kind in the United States. Also in 1925, the Iowa Congress of Mothers was changed to the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers to conform with national.
The next 25 years, from 1925 to 1950, the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers continued its advocacy work tackling statewide children's issues such as:
- Health education and annual examinations of the school child
- Child immunizations
- Narcotics education
- Establishment of a library in every county
- Equality of all schools in Iowa
- Education in wise use of leisure
- Support for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, camp fire girls, and similar organizations
- Opportunities for boys and girls to practice citizenship through participation in school forums, student councils, mock courts, etc.
- Character building
- Organization of Child Study Circles
- Raising the age limit for marriage
- Special education facilities and services
- Making an orphan or abandoned child a ward of the state
- Raising minimum standards for teacher qualification
- Optional rather than compulsory military training in public schools
- Promoting home reading
- Studying and promoting home and school cooperation
- Aid to dependent children
- Marijuana control
- Free transportation of school children
- Increasing teacher compensation
- Student loans for education majors
The years of the Great Depression cast the state and the nation into unbelievable depths of want and suffering. Yet, communities found their Parent-Teacher Association to be the one factor in the community which was able and ready to carry on the milk lunches, family fun nights, parent education classes, and other projects for the benefit of all. Almost every unit in the Iowa Congress carried on some form of relief work, giving milk, shoes, clothes, hot lunches, carfare, or providing for other needs.
In 1935 National PTA returned to Iowa for its 38th annual convention and found that Iowa PTA had come into its own. The theme for that convention was, "The Future of the Forgotten Child."
In 1948 and 1949 Iowa PTA held Parent-Teacher workshops for student teachers at Iowa State Teachers College, Iowa State College, Drake University and Morningside College.
In the aftermath of World War II, the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers began its second 50 years with the recognition that the most important child welfare issue facing it was the development of a genuine peace in the world; that unless they accomplished that purpose, children would have little opportunity for growth, freedom, or even life itself. They resolved to work together in home, school, church, community, nation, and throughout the world to advance the idea that peace begins on our street, in our own homes and communities.
In August, 1950, the Iowa Congress made its first loan from the newly established Student Loan Fund for the purpose of helping in some small way to alleviate the teacher shortage in Iowa. Applicants were required to work toward a baccalaureate degree in education. The Student Loan Fund would be supported entirely by contributions and repayment of loans. Students were expected to repay the loans at a rate of 2% per annum which would be used to support future loans. The Student Loan Fund was discontinued in 1971 and was replaced by the H. L. Taylor Scholarship in 1974. The scholarship program no longer requires that applicants enter the field of education.
In March of 1955, Neva Taylor accepted the position of Executive Secretary for the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers, having served for 20 years before that as a member of the Board of Managers. Mrs. Taylor was awarded a National PTA Honorary Life Membership in 1959 and, in 1966, she was honored at the Iowa PTA Convention. In a tribute to Neva Taylor, Mrs. Sherman B. Watson, Iowa PTA President, said:
Mrs. H. L. Taylor, you have touched the lives of many people in your PTA work. Your humor, steadfastness, ability, knowledge, and courteous friendliness cannot be matched. If we had such a term, and we do not, we would most certainly call you "Mrs. PTA" of Iowa. Your service to Iowa PTA may never be equaled.
Indeed, it never has. Neva Taylor continued in her position as Executive Secretary for Iowa PTA until her retirement in September, 1979. As a tribute to her dedication to Iowa PTA, a new statewide PTA unit was formed in 1979 which is known as the Neva Taylor Statewide Unit. It is an "at large" unit, primarily for professionals, PTA alumni and friends who often have no local unit conveniently available, but who wish to support PTA and maintain an association with it. Neva Taylor passed away in November, 2002, at the age of 102.
Mrs. Taylor's husband, Harold L. Taylor, was also a longtime employee of the Iowa PTA. Although he was employed as a part-time mail clerk, he worked daily at the State PTA Office and spent long, overtime hours for which he did not expect, nor did he receive, any compensation. He is remembered fondly as the driver of the car that traveled all over Iowa, taking his wife and other PTA personnel to District Conferences, State Conventions, and local PTA meetings. Both Neva and Harold understood and believed completely in the PTA Program. Harold Taylor passed away in 1969 and, in 1974, Iowa PTA established a scholarship fund in his memory. The H. L. Taylor Scholarship Program awards scholarship grants every year to deserving Iowa students.
The first Legislative Conference to be held by the Iowa Congress took place at the Hotel Savery in Des Moines on November 19 and 20, 1956. The purpose of the program was to help local chairmen coordinate a program of legislation within their own communities. This event was the pilot for PTA legislative conferences that would take place for almost 50 years to come.
The program of international relations that the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers put forth in 1950 continued to be a priority issue as the organization moved into the decade of the 1960's. The Congress urged its membership to become informed on the broad problems and issues which would affect the welfare of people everywhere, believing that actions, however small, when added together would create a climate of greater understanding. Iowa PTA units were encouraged to:
- Include at least one program per year specifically designed to deepen the understanding of its members on problems related to developing friendly relations between nations.
- Cooperate with programs designed to provide for foreign exchange students and foreign visitors.
- Establish contacts with organizations such as the Iowa Association for the United Nations.
- Distribute information on organizations such as UNESCO and UNICEF and events such as Brotherhood Week and Human Rights Day.
- Cooperate with other organizations and agencies to establish school and community programs for greater understanding of the role and responsibility of each citizen in strengthening the free world.
- Participate in getting out the vote in local, state, and national elections.
- Urge participation of individuals in community civil defense, in character-building youth programs, and in naturalization of foreign born.
- Include at least one program per year on the importance of the family as the basic unit upon which is built the democratic way of life.
- Provide programs designed to deepen understanding of civic responsibilities.
In 1965 the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers, for the first time, presented a series of fifteen-minute television shows over station WOI, Ames. Nine members of the Board of Managers participated in presenting the PTA story. For many years the Congress had been producing radio programs and by 1965 they were being broadcast monthly throughout the state on 11 radio stations.
By the mid 1960's issues such as school funding and child welfare were becoming critical. The Legislative Program of the Iowa Congress was very successful in the 1965 legislative session as the efforts of PTA members resulted in the passing of legislation in several areas including:
- Use of safety-glasses
- Driver education
- Child abuse laws
- Updating juvenile court laws
And they cooperated with three major educational organizations for an increase in state aid.
In October 1966, Iowa became one of twenty states to pilot a new PTA program aimed at keeping 7th and 8th graders from starting to smoke. The pilot program was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service. Key persons in the project were PTA room mothers who coordinated school and home activities involving parents, teachers, and the children themselves. They emphasized for young teenagers the benefits of not smoking and the hazards, especially, of cigarette smoking.
In 1973 a Joint Statement on the Role and Use of School Volunteers was issued by the Iowa PTA and the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA). The statement read:
The Iowa State Education Association and the Iowa Congress of Parents and Teachers support the use of volunteers in the schools. Both organizations recognize that carefully trained volunteers, operating under policies which describe the tasks to be performed and procedures for supervision and evaluation, can be of great assistance to the professional teaching staff of the school. Volunteers should not be used to replace teachers. Professionally prepared and properly certified teachers who have selected education as a career are the only persons who may teach in the schools. The primary value of volunteers is their ability to perform the non-instructional activities. This role of the volunteer contributes to the quality of education provided by the school.
The first preschool PTA in Iowa, the Parents of Preschoolers Association, was formed in February, 1974, in Clinton. As a PTA unit their purpose was to study and discuss the development of the preschool child and seek opportunities to give all children the best possible start toward success in school and in life. The group was unique in that it was not affiliated with any one specific school but its members came from throughout the city. Membership was open to any interested parent, grandparent, teacher, babysitter, expectant parent or anyone concerned with the care of children.
Although concerns about the effects on children of moving pictures, radio and television were not new to PTA, Iowa PTA took up this issue with renewed vigor in 1974 when delegates at the state convention adopted a resolution to increase its efforts:
- To encourage the mass media to provide experiences which would be enriching rather than harmful; and
- To encourage TV networks to schedule family entertainment during prime time and reserve adult entertainment for late evening viewing.
And in 1975, convention delegates passed emergency resolutions to support:
- Vigorous enforcement of the obscenity laws currently on the books in Iowa; and
- Raising the Iowa Age for Sexual Consent (which, at the time, was 14)
Legislative decisions made during the recession of the 1980's resulted in steadily decreasing budgets for schools. More and more often PTAs took up the slack by funding an increasing list of school necessities, causing the Iowa PTA to write:
Fundraisers do make money, but PTAs can do more for children and education through legislation. PTAs could hold fundraisers until doomsday and not raise teachers' salaries, remove asbestos from the schools, fund hot lunch programs, or any of the other things needed - but through legislation, those things can be funded - and we don't have to send our kids door-to-door to do it!
In 1985 Iowa PTA was successful in securing legislation requiring the use of proper restraints for children under the age of six while in an automobile.
In 1987 convention delegates approved raising Iowa PTA dues to $2.50 per year.
In 1989 Iowa PTA began offering liability insurance and bonding for units at a very reasonable cost. PTAs are strongly urged to consider including this insurance and bonding in their budgets to protect the board and the members.
In 1989 Iowa PTA also went through the process of updating the organization's Articles of Incorporation and urged units to consider incorporating as well.
In 1989 legislation to ban corporal punishment in Iowa schools finally made its way to the Governor's desk. Iowa PTA worked in collaboration with the Iowa Chapter of the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse in advocating for this landmark legislation.
In 1992 Iowa PTA testified before the Iowa House Education committee concerning funding for education. In 1993 Iowa PTA testified at three more public hearings against putting a cap on special education funding.
In February of 2000, Iowa PTA held a statewide Children's Issues Conference via the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), replacing the legislative conference which had been held in Des Moines since 1956. The ICN allowed attendees to participate in the conference at a location in their own community, avoiding the drive to Des Moines in the middle of the Iowa winter. The topic of the conference was "Safe Schools - Safe Kids" and featured Iowa's First Lady, Christie Vilsack, as a guest speaker.
Iowa PTA celebrated its 100th birthday at the annual convention in October, 2000. "Historical moments" were infused into the convention activities, culminating at the 100th Anniversary Celebration Banquet. At the 2000 Convention, delegates adopted a new position statement on Identify Development.
By the start of the new millennium, inadequate funding for education in Iowa had become critical. Iowa PTA conducted a survey of school district superintendents across the state to identify problems resulting from inadequate funding for education and, in February, 2001, participated in a statewide rally to urge legislators to increase Iowa's investment in education, including teacher pay. In 2001 Iowa PTA also testified at a Congressional field hearing in support of federal funding for the Head Start program.
Iowa PTA held its first Spring convention in April, 2002, moving away from its tradition of Fall conventions. The April date would provide PTA members and newly-elected officers with information and inspiration in preparation for back-to-school activities in the fall.
In the late 1900's electronic media became a regular form of communication. Iowa PTA sent legislative news and alerts via email in order to get information to advocates in a timely fashion. PTA members were also using email as a common method of communicating with lawmakers. In October, 2002, Iowa PTA launched an electronic newsletter to local unit officers with reminders, deadlines and short informational articles. After several years of experimenting with website formats, Iowa PTA implemented a web-based information system in March, 2004, with articles, instructions, resources, and forms for use by PTA members and leaders. By the summer of 2005, the last printed copy of the PTA bulletin had been mailed, to be replaced by the electronic publication, "One Voice."
Iowa PTA continued to join with other education organizations in advocating for increases in school funding, continuing the annual survey of school administrators to identify the lengthening list of critical needs. On a brisk January day in 2004, an estimated 2,000 education advocates from across Iowa gathered on the steps of the Capitol to show support for increased funding for education. Iowa PTA provided a cookie for each legislator with a note saying, "This is the last cookie we're baking -- From now on it's up to you to fund education!"
By 2003 Iowa was leading the nation in the number of families with both parents, or the only parent, working. Quality before- and after-school programs had become a necessity for working families. To better advocate for these programs, Iowa PTA joined the Iowa Afterschool Network (later to become the Iowa Afterschool Alliance) and became an affiliate member of the Iowa Community Education Association.
In 2003 Iowa's first three Parent Involvement Schools of Excellence were certified by National PTA: Westridge Elementary (West Des Moines), Clive Elementary (West Des Moines) and Pierce Elementary (Cedar Rapids).
In 2006 Iowa PTA provided grants to several PTAs for parent involvement programs that promoted and supported mathematics, science, and technology education. The grants were made possible through a collaboration with the Iowa Mathematics and Science Coalition with funding from the National Association of State Science and Mathematics Coalitions.
"We strive until the goal is gained
Then look for one still unattained;
Our records point the course we take
To greater records we can make-
For hope springs not from what we've done
But from the work we've just begun."
- Mrs. Lloyd S. Mumford
Iowa PTA President, 1944-1947
Sources of Information
The First Fifty Years. Hazel Hillis, Mrs. R. G. Wellman, Mrs. Allen O. Ruste, Carolyn E. Forgrave, Mrs. F. W. Beckman, Mrs. H. G. Drake, Mrs. R. Nason Friend, Mrs. Charles F. Pye, Mrs. Charles W. Smith, Mrs. S. E. Lincoln. Published by Iowa Parent-Teacher Association, 1950.
Iowa PTA Bulletins.
For information about the history of the National PTA go to: http://www.pta.org/about/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3465