P.E.O., a “philanthropic organization where women celebrate the advancement of women; educate women though scholarships, grants, awards, loans and stewardship of Cottey College; and motivate women to achieve their highest aspirations” was founded as a collegiate organization on January 21, 1869. The seven founders – Franc Roads [Elliott], Hattie Briggs [Bousquet], Mary Allen [Stafford], Alice Coffin, Ella Stewart, Alice Bird [Babb] and Suela Pearson [Penfield] – were students at Iowa Wesleyan University, one of the oldest institutions of higher education west of the Mississippi River.
Although it began as a collegiate organization, in 1902 it became a community-based one. The collegiate chapter at Iowa Wesleyan became Alpha Xi Delta’s second chapter. P.E.O. chapters spread across the country from Midwestern roots. In 1911, P.E.O. established its first Canadian chapter in Vancouver, British Columbia. P.E.O. existed in quiet splendor and kept a very low profile in communities all over North America. Chapters did not toot their own horns about the good works they were doing. That changed in 2005, with a new logo and the introduction of an “It’s OK to Talk About P.E.O.” campaign. On January 21, Founders’ Day, P.E.O.s are encouraged to wear their P.E.O. emblems, the star shaped pins members receive.
Today P.E.O. has six projects that benefit education for women. Over the last 100+ years, P.E.O. has helped more than 88,000 women in their educational pursuits.
The oldest of P.E.O.’s projects is the Educational Loan Fund (ELF); it began in 1907 and has helped more than 70,000 women with loans surpassing a total of $136 million.
Cottey College, the only American college for women owned by women, was given to the P.E.O. Sisterhood in 1927. More than 8,500 women from 50 states, four Canadian provinces, and 85 countries are Cottey alumnae. (more about Cottey is at http://wp.me/p20I1i-h3)
Established in 1949, the P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship Fund (IPS) gives to international women scholarships for graduate study in the United States or Canada. More than $28 million has been awarded to women from all over the globe. These IPS scholars have had educational opportunities they never would have had without P.E.O.’s generosity.
The P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education began in 1973. Needs-based grants are given to American and Canadian women whose educations have been interrupted. More than $40 million has been distributed. These grants have helped countless women and, in turn, their families by providing them with the opportunity to obtain the credentials they need to find viable employment.
Since 1991, the highly competitive P.E.O. Scholar Awards have provided financial assistance to American and Canadian women pursuing doctoral-level study. The amount that has been awarded is nearly $15 million.
The youngest of P.E.O.’s projects is the STAR Scholarship, established in 2009. It provides college scholarships to exceptional high school women in the United States and Canada. In the few years of its existence, nearly $2 million has been dispersed.
To read more about the history of the Illinois State Chapter of P.E.O. visit the link to the page about it and Lulu Corkhill Williams http://wp.me/P20I1i-Qf .
© Fran Becque www.fraternityhistory.com