Helping Women Reach for the Stars – The P.E.O. Sisterhood Turns 146!

My P.E.O. chapter met on Monday night. The reminder e-mail which the President sent a few days before the meeting was a double reminder. No only did it refresh my mind about the meeting, but it also told me that I signed up to do the program.

Each of our meetings is followed by a program, where a member or guest talks about something of interest. One of our members travels the world on mission trips and tells us about her journeys to other places. One member’s mother had a fabulous collection of hats; when she died, her daughter couldn’t bear to discard them so she brought them to a meeting and we played “dress-up” with Betty Lou’s hats. Another sister did a program about her favorite things, a la Oprah. She even had samples to give away.

Each year, I usually sign up to do the program for the January meeting. That’s because 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 College, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, one of the oldest institutions of higher education west of the Mississippi River.

It was a meeting filled with laughter. It had been a month and a half since our last meeting, so there was a lot of catching up to do. Our newest member, who was initiated at the December meeting, was at the door greeting people (a registered dietitian and a friend of the hostess, she had confided to her that one of her goals was to be a Wal-Mart greeter and that this would be good practice). Another member’s husband had died after Christmas. It was the first meeting she attended in a while because she was his main caretaker as he fought a long battle against Multiple Sclerosis. We welcomed her with hugs. The snowbirds, our members who head to southern points, were missed. Our hostess, one of the most gracious southern women I’ve ever met, took over the duties at the last minute when the original hostess had to bow out because of a family emergency. I am grateful to my chapter and I love being a part of it. I am confident that my P.E.O. sisters across the country have chapter meetings like mine, and that they feel the same way, too.

And so I did what I usually do at the January meeting. I talked about those seven young women, teenagers actually, who were students at Iowa Wesleyan in a time when they were a distinct minority – women enrolled in higher education. Could they, in their wildest dreams, have ever envisioned what P.E.O. is today? Could they have imagined us laughing together in a living room in a time and day far from the lives they knew? Could they fathom the amount of lives that would be changed by their simple little act of coming together and creating P.E.O.?

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.

1914 P.E.O. Emblem

1914 P.E.O. Emblem

To learn more about P.E.O., visit In a short video Maria Bassegio, P.E.O.’s International President, explains what P.E.O. is and does. Maria’s Aunt Shirley was initiated into my chapter when she lived in Carbondale. By the time I joined the chapter, Shirley had moved to Pennsylvania, where she later served on the state board. Maria has told me that her Aunt Shirley is the reason she is a P.E.O., and my chapter feels this is a special connection to our International President. 

Happy Founders’ Day, P.E.O. Sisters! (And you might enjoy my P.E.O. History pinterest board at

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© Fran Becque,, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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