• PTA History

    For more than a century, National PTA has provided support, information and resources to families focused on the health and education of children. The organization was founded in 1897 in Washington, DC, as the National Congress of Mothers by Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. If not for these women, their vision and determination, there would not be a PTA-an organization that has been woven into the very fabric of American life.

    By whatever name it has been known, National PTA was created to meet a profound challenge: to better the lives of children. And today, it continues to flourish because PTA has never lost sight of its goal: to change the lives of children across our great nation for the better.

    1897—Our Founders' Vision

    Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst founded an organization-a nationwide movement-in a time when social activism was scorned and women did not have the vote. They knew there is no stronger bond than that between mother and child. Therefore, they felt it was up to mothers of this country to eliminate the threats that endangered children. They called for action in 1897 and more than 2,000 people responded—many were mothers, but fathers, teachers, laborers, and legislators also responded—all with a commitment to children. From that first meeting in Washington, DC, grew a groundswell of support. Problems were identified and strategies devised to resolve them. Through consistent hard work, sometimes after years of perseverance, the dreams became reality: the creation of kindergarten classes, child labor laws, a public health service, hot lunch programs, a juvenile justice system, and mandatory immunization were accepted as national norms. Between 1897 and 1919, 37 state-level congresses were chartered to help carry out the work of the organization. See milestones 1897-99 or 1900-1909 or 1910-1919.


    With legislative reforms beginning to take shape in response to PTA initiatives, National PTA launched its own comprehensive education and training programs for members. In 1922, "A PTA in Every School" became the nationwide goal. Parenting skills were a particular concern and the focus of many local and national conferences. The PTA found partners to broaden the scope of our efforts. In 1925, the PTA cooperated with the U.S. Bureau of education in a Summer Roundup of children to help parents identify and correct children's health problems before they started the 1st grade. Violence on television spurred the PTA to action in the '70s as we sought to measure the effects of such programming on our children. Today we offer critical viewing skills workshops around the country to help parents evaluate what they and their children are watching. See milestones 1970-1979.


    As conditions changed, so did PTA's programs. The age of the automobile brought new concerns about child safety. National PTA responded with a safety education program for school children that continues today as we reach out to children through our school bus safety program, which includes tip sheets for parents and teachers, educational posters, and television public service announcements. See milestones 1930-1939.


    A world shattered by war in the 1940s sought a new and better way to resolve conflicts before they erupted into violence and destruction. National PTA was among the very first organizations to support the fledgling United Nations and the hope it represented for all children around the globe. See milestones 1940-1949.


    One of the most high-profile projects in PTA history was our participation in the field testing of the Salk polio vaccine in the '50s, and securing the polio vaccination for all school children. It was during this time that the PTA began to recognize America's affinity for prescription and over-the-counter medications, and called for a national conference to address narcotics and drug addiction in youth. See milestones 1950-1959.


    Smoking and drug abuse became increasingly common in American culture. During the '60s we called for schools to focus on the risks involved with abuse and created public service messages to educate parents and the general public about the dangers of addiction. See milestones 1960-1969.


    Violence on television spurred the PTA to action in the '70s as we sought to measure the effects of such programming on our children. Today we offer critical viewing skills workshops around the country to help parents evaluate what they and their children are watching. See milestones 1970-1979.


    The alarming rise in sexually transmitted diseases and the advent of AIDS found the PTA once more at the forefront of a difficult issue. We advocate that comprehensive information about the diseases be made available at school and at home to help check the epidemic. And we've designed programs and resources to help parents talk frankly with their children about these issues. See milestones 1980-1989.


    In spite of our accomplishments, there was still more work to be done. In many ways, our challenges resembled those confronting the first National Congress of Mothers. Our population was growing and becoming increasingly diverse. Opportunity abounded for those with the education and training to take advantage of it, but for those with few skills the gap grew greater than ever. Education reform was the debate of the day, and the halls of the United States Congress echoed with conflicting solutions to fix what ails the system. National PTA was there to guarantee that the parent's voice didn't get lost in the clamor.

    Our triumph in 1994 was the enactment of the Goals 2000: Educate America legislation that, among many reforms, called for local school districts to make parents equal partners on issues affecting their children's education. In support of the National Education Goals, National PTA released its National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs in 1997. By 1999, National PTA launched a major training program to educate members and the public about the benefits of parent involvement, the components of effective programs, and how to implement the standards. See milestones 1990-1999.


    National PTA published the book, Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide to Parent and Family Involvement Programs, in January 2000 to provide field-tested strategies for developing successful parent involvement programs. The importance of parent involvement in all aspects of a child's life cannot be overstated. Our own research and that of other agencies unequivocally prove that children thrive when their parents devote time and loving attention to them. National concern about our children is essential, but ultimately the responsibility still falls to each parent to keep children safe and healthy. That is where the PTA fills the greatest need-by providing the link between parents and educators, between parents and government, and between parents and the legal system. See milestones 2000-2001.

    Membership in PTA

    Today, National PTA is the largest child advocacy organization in the United States—6.5 million members strong-with local organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and in the Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the Pacific. Membership is open to anyone who believes in our mission-that National PTA is a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for parents, and a strong advocate for public education. The PTA is committed to being inclusive in its efforts to represent and assist all who nurture and educate children. It not only welcomes but actively seeks in its male and female membership the widest diversity of cultures, races, ethnicities, creeds, and economic and educational status. Individual members may belong to one or more PTAs and pay dues in each. Every person who joins a PTA automatically becomes a member of both the state and National PTAs.