Early History of Wisconsin PTA

EARLY HISTORY OF WISCONSIN PTA

By Judy Cardin, Wisconsin PTA President, 1987-89

One of the many things I wanted to do a President of the Wisconsin PTA was to organize the multitude of minutes we found stored in many different boxes. I not only wanted to organize them, but I also wanted to save then on computer disk to allow for more storage space in our already overcrowded state office. As past president, I am able to accomplish this task.

Many of the early minutes were donated to the Wisconsin State Historical Society of Madison in 1954. The Historical Society was very kind to allow us to borrow these minutes back so that we might have a complete history of the Wisconsin PTA.

There were so many items I found important and interesting in our past PTA history. I thought you too, may want to share in some of the workings of our “forefathers.”

Interest in the parent-teacher work in Wisconsin began through the use of the Child Welfare Magazine [now known as PTA Today (later changed to Our Children- pll)]., which in 1908 came to Mrs. Agnes Betts of Milwaukee from the National Congress of Mothers. Mrs. Betts, being very interested in the welfare of our children, sought to explore this “National Congress of Mothers.” Being very much impressed with their movement, Mrs. Betts called for a meeting of many various clubs (i.e. Women’s Clubs, Jewish Council of Women, Boys Busy Life Clubs) on May 27, 1910. A motion was made and carried at this meeting to form a state organization. And so they did on June 7, 1910, an organization meeting was held. Many speakers were present and spoke of the necessity of the “need of good house training for children.” Another speaker “gave credit to mother for most of the good in men.” Mrs. Schoof, Philadelphia, President of the National Congress, was the main speaker. She explained the purpose of the organization and spoke of the vast amount of good accomplished by the Philadelphia Congress. On June 27, 1910, Mrs. J. R. Sullivan was elected State President and our constitution and bylaws were adopted.

Much time in the early years was spent speaking to other groups who were interested in this movement for children. Dues varied for $2.00 to $5.00 depending on the size of the group and the kind of group (affiliated or unaffiliated) and/or whether they were individuals who just wanted to belong.

Many of the meetings took place at the Hotel Pfister and at the Public Library in Milwaukee. Anyone could attend and many were often invited. It was a difficult time for travel and there was some skepticism in this movement. Mrs. W.W. Wright, President fo the 20th Century Club, said “Being keenly alive to all progressive movements, she responded to the invitation in her desire to learn the personnel of the Congress before taking a personal membership.” Mrs. Wright did join our movement and soon became chairman of the Credential Committee for the forthcoming convention which was held June 10, 1911 in Milwaukee. At the convention, all committee chairman reported, a resolution was passed for a safe 4th of July, revision to the constitution and bylaws were passed and acceptance of the treasurer’s report of a $29.95 balance.

Many resignations took place as a result of failing health or moving out of state. Therefore, the search for new chairmen was constant. Literature from the National Congress was always on hand to send to prospective members and the uniting for a common cause was beginning.

Health was and always has been a major concern for the PTA. The infant mortality rate was high, lack of proper parent education, lack of proper recreation, lack of proper food and lack of knowledge of all of the above all contributed to the poor health of our children.

In 1912, the need “to study the conditions of high schools, modifications of dress, the need of art and music as well as education along the line of good things as being problems of the city,” were addressed. Marriage sanctity, lack of playgrounds, juvenile court and mother’s pensions were some of the many topics there ladies were concerned with and together with organizations united to help rectify these injustices to children.

Many of the early minutes were handwritten, some fancy, and many, many abbreviations were used. Those minutes were sometimes hard to decipher and the abbreviations many never be known. Because of the resignations of secretaries and often time the absence of them, many different people took minutes, each having their own method of abbreviations, handwriting and judgment of what is worth recording and what is not.

Our relationship with the Wisconsin Teachers Association began in 1915. We were invited to join the teachers during their convention in joint meetings known as “Sectionals.” Each year in November, we shared one afternoon listening to speakers sharing their thoughts on the children’s movement and problems facing children both educationally and socially. Our relationship with the teachers grew and soon many teachers were more than willing to share their expertise with us and some became members of our state board.

We worked closely with the State Teachers’ Colleges. Professors were also a part of our state board and our PTA leaders were asked to speak to future teachers about our association, the need for parent involvement and how together we could help the future of our nation.

Seeking new members and searching for funds kept our state board busy. The issues that were facing children were getting better, but more were creeping into the forefront. The silent movies brought with them no only enjoyment, but some questionable subject matter. We became very active in the Film Betterment Committee and in the Motion Picture Censorship Board. These committees were soon reviewing films and reporting whether these were suitable for children, family or adults only. Lists could be found in Bulletin articles. The PTA kept a watchful eye not only on the movies, but also listened to the radio and questioned some of that programming. Other subjects that we were involved in were: dances adjacent to saloons, medical inspection in school, preservation of the family circle, fire prevention and conservation of food. We fought hard for child labor laws, for the recording of all births and we joined forces with the anti-tuberculosis group and we fought for the betterment of living conditions for the next generation.

And then came World War I. We were asked to be thrifty, to conserve. Mrs. W.T. Young, Illinois State Organizer, spoke at one of the sectionals of what PTAs can do for their children for the conservation of youth during wartime. She dwelt upon the development of the spirit of conservation and of cooperation between the school and home. In summing up, Mrs. Young said, “A PTA is the last stamp of democracy. Men and women belong to it on an equal basis and the association can be a mighty force in the development of national unity. By starting parents thinking for themselves, helping them overcome their indifference and in some cases, ignorance, we will have improved conditions and better potential citizens.”

Our PTA association decided to purchase milk for their children. PTAs were doing their best to keep schools open and have everything as normal as before. Talks on food conservation and patriotic work were given over and over again. The convention in 1918 was held in conjunction with the Teachers’ Convention in order to conserve. PTA sent a letter to President Roosevelt asking him to be our guest speaker (he declined). We contributed to the National PTA fund for service clubs, for our doughboys in and around the vicinity of Washington D.C. and to help the French orphans.

The Wisconsin PTA endorsed a plan suggested by Miss Harrison, president of the National Kindergarten and Elementary College in Chicago [now National Louis University] , that consisted of “giving young women under a 21 a six month federal training under a certain course of study. The young women in question were to be placed in barracks or cantonment for six months similar to those in which our young men in military service were being trained. Only the training of the girls was to consist of sanitation, domestic science, personal hygiene, etc., to make girls worthy of the new manhood created by the war and to be better able to meet these new conditions.

PTA was on the move – helping in any way they could so children would have a better place to live and learn.

“The greatest source of juvenile delinquency is the working mother who has the burden of raising a large family and is worried by the state because she must go out and increase the family income to provide children with clothes, shoes, etc.”

The war is over. Many children were left fatherless. The only solution for the mother was to see work outside the home in order to provide for her family. In some cases, this was not enough. Children began working. “A child of 14 years, after finishing the 6th grade, is granted a permit to work. There are 12,000 children between the ages of 14-16 working. A child through force of economic reasons is taken from school and must go to work. Whether he has genius or wishes to continue his studies is not asked. He must leave school so wages can help toward the support of the family. When a child of fine mentality works in a factory, his intelligence is not satisfied and, as a result, he moves from one factory to another. “Child labor laws and mother’s pension were the key words for PTA. We got involved and we did, through time, and with the help of many – WIN.

Membership in Wisconsin PTA in 1920, according to National figures was 2,712. “Dress for girls and use of rouge and lipstick by girls of school age; elaborate hair-dress, sheer-waists, girls on streets and promiscuous auto-riding” – all concerns of PTA in the 1920’s. We supported the Anti-Mashing bill. Evils of gambling by boys and girls; sideshows at the State Fair were not educational, moral or honest; cigarettes being sold to minors – all issues we deplored.

 SOME PLANKS FOR OUR HEALTH PLATFORM

  1. Don’t hurry – don’t worry – just live.
  2. Don’t eat in a hurry, don’t eat when very tired, don’t hurry very much after eating.
  3. No baths, vigorous exercise or study on a full stomach; no sweets, no pastries and no knick knacks on an empty one.
  4. Better to sleep from 9:00 to 6:30 than from 11:00 to 8:30:
  5. Don’t exercise to produce health of body after the heart is tired; don’t study to produce health of mind after the brain is tired.
  6. Simple meals of nutritious foods taken regularly and well digested produce strength of body. Simple programs of intellectual foods studied regularly and well mastered – strength of mind. “School frills” are attractive, but should be treated as intellectual desserts. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners often cause physical indigestion and produce sickness, not health. “Cramming for examinations” and “taking many studies” just as often cause mental indigestion, though the disturbance is not always so apparent.
  7. A healthy body must be kept clean, inside and outside.
    1. Bathe the skin – some say “once a day”; others say “twice a week” and many say “at least once a week.”
    2. Brush the teeth – night and morning
    3. Watch the nose, mouth and lungs to see they eat not dirty foods, drink no dirty water and breathe no dirty air.
    4. Rinse the tissues of the body with about 8 glasses of liquids every 24 hours – water, milk and soups are better than tea and coffee, wine and beer, or the iced drinks for this purpose.
    5. Our bodies, like our furnaces, work better and last longer when the ashes are shaken down every morning
  8. Persons who stay at home when they have colds, coughs and sore throats are kinder to their friends and neighbors than those who when, so afflicted, travel on street cars to attend school, churches, clubs, theaters or the movies.

Minutes taken after November 21, 1921 and prior to June 4, 1923 have been lost. They can neither be found at the State Historical Society nor at the State PTA Office.

Conventions, sometimes called Annual Meetings, were much different than we know them. First, the Wisconsin PTA asked for invitations from any city wishing to hold our convention. Second, the State Board would vote on the particular city and thirdly, the people of the community were involved in almost every aspect of the convention. Committees were formed to set up: transportation, special railroad rate were negotiated; housing, no not just hotels, but often times members opened their homes for sleeping rooms and served their guests meals; meals for luncheons and banquets again not in hotels, but in churches and school cafeterias; entertainment, each session was opened with music of some kind, community singing, children’s groups, community groups, solos, trios, duets and vocals; tours, auto rides about town to see the sights was the things to do at conventions.

Most conventions took place each year in April or May in one of the schools, a high school, if the city had one. Conventions were free from registration fees until about 1926 when money was needed to help cover the cost of a new idea “package” for the delegates. Copying was very expensive. It cost just as much in those days to print the Convention Program book as it costs the State PTA to print it in our day.

The first Wisconsin PTA Bulletin was printed in 1922 with President, Mrs. George Tremper, Kenosha, as the editor. It carried much more news to the membership about new PTAs, programs, projects, legislation and new literature. It contained articles from many influential people who were quite actively involved with children in the area of health, education, juvenile justice, etc. The bulletin continued until 1931 when financial difficulties made it impossible.

Mrs. Tremper, Kenosha, was our fourth and longest serving president. She served from 1919 to 1925. The first membership award of a traveling silver cup was presented to the PTA having the greatest percent of increase and a gavel to the second highest. Dues in 1925 were 10 cents and membership increased to an all-time high of 12,000 members, up 6,302 from the previous year. The treasury was a balance of $158.43.

Some new issues facing the PTA [in 1990] – a state public school fund, property taxes for schools, aging school buildings, proper pay for teachers and proper education for teachers!

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