Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy 130th birthday to Chariton's P.E.O. chapters

If you've not jotted this down in your birthday book yet,  here's a reminder to wish Chariton's two chapters of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, Chapter N. and Chapter O.S., a happy 130th birthday on Feb. 19. Chapter O.S. actually was not chartered until 1992, but since it grew out of Chapter N., the same date will do for both.

For the uninitiated, P.E.O. is a women's organization of some 250,000 members worldwide, headquartered in Des Moines and focused on providing educational opportunities for women. If you want to know what P.E.O. means, ask a member --- good luck with that. For public purposes, P.E.O. announced in 2008, the initials represent "Philanthropic Educational Organization."

P.E.O. was organized during 1869 on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant (aerial view above) and the organization's "Memory Room" is located on the second floor of Old Main, the oldest university building.


One of my tasks is to come up every month with five local history trivia questions for the "table tents" distributed by Chariton Area Chanber/Main Street. You'll find these on restaurant tables and countertops all around town.

I decided to kick off the new year by asking about Chariton's oldest organizations. That was a breeze for oldest religious congregation, oldest men's organization, oldest continually operating business and oldest civic organization. But I'd never looked up the dates for P.E.O. before, so now I know --- and so do you.

The earliest P.E.O. report I could find was in The Herald of March 17, 1887: "We are informed that an organization known among the ladies as the P.E.O. has invaded the ranks of the fair sex, and that eight or ten of the young ladies of Chariton have submitted to its seductive influences, through the agency of a bevy of young sisters from Albia. They say our young ladies have a club and wear badges. Whenever you see the badges, look out for the club."

Does that seem ever so slightly patronizing to you, or is it just my imagination? Whatever the case, the news columns were peppered for the balance of that year with reports of P.E.O. activities, fund-raising and otherwise, and when the organization's first anniversary rolled around, it was being taken more seriously. 

Here's a report on that anniversary gathering from The Herald of Feb. 23, 1888:

"Last Saturday evening the P.E.O. Society, which consists of some of our very best young ladies, gave an entertainment at the pleasant home of Mr. and Mrs. A.E. Dent. Despite the inclemency of the weather, over a hundred responded to the invitations and were present to enjoy the pleasures of the evening. The hearty handshake, we know not whether it be the magic grip of their order or not, with which each fair hostess greeted each new comer put everyone at their ease, and such a pleasant social evening was enjoyed as can be only where all feel at home and welcome. After some splended music and entertaining recitals which adds greatly to the enjoyment of all, a feast was spread and the delicacies were all the more delightful because of the pretty P.E.O.'s who served them.

"This society was founded at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in the year 1869. The Chariton chapter was instituted Feb. 19, 1887, the entertainment of Saturday evening celebrating their first anniversary. The organization is for the social and literary advancement of its members and an object they now have in view is the founding of an industrial school. The Chariton chapter is the 27th of 28 now in existence, and is known as chapter Z. The young ladies differ from Shakespeare and affirm there is something in a name, and furthermore declare that the something in their name they will not disclose. Never-the-less we say long may they live and happily prosper."


By 1903, P.E.O. had some 10,000 members nationwide, including Mrs. William Jennings Bryan, who entertained more than 150 delegates to the Supreme Grand Chapter meeting of that year during October at her home, Fairview, in Lincoln, Nebraska --- including Carrie Kull, delegate from the Chariton chapter.

A more comprehensive account on the Chariton chapter's history was included in a front-page report on the Supreme Grand Chapter meeting published in The Herald of Oct. 22, 1903:

"The Chariton chapter was organized the 19th day of February, 1887, by eight Chariton girls, of whom only three are residing in the city now. They were Mesdames Lulu Smith Copeland, Jessie Millisac Leipsey, Clara Hollinger Culbertson, Laura Putnam Couch, Gertrude Aughey Stanton, Zora Stewart Harper, Rose Freel Muehe and Miss Mollie Freel.

"The local chapter grew out of an idea conceived by Miss Aughey while visiting her friends in Albia. She was pleased with the P.E.O. chapter and its work in that city and came home with the determination to interest some of her associates in a similar organization, her primary motive being to benefit the town by way of improvements, etc. Three young ladies, members of the Albia chapter, came to this city on the date above mentioned, and in the afternoon, the seven (sic) Chariton girls met at the home of Rev. Aughey, then pastor of the Presbyterian church, and effected the order which has enjoyed such prosperity in the last sixteen years and now numbers nearly one hundred members.

"On the evening of their birthday, Miss Zora Stewart entertained the young laides at her home. In May of that year, the society gave their first sociable, an ice cream and strawberry festival at the home of Mrs. Quim Baker, now the Gartin home on west Court avenue. For a time their meetings were held at their homes, and then rooms were nicely furnished in the Law block, where they met for several years. Their meeting place now is in the Penick block, where they assemble every two weeks for a social and literary hour under the leadershiop of Mrs. A.L. Leonard, president, Mrs. Lizzie Penick, secretary, and Miss Carrie Kull, treasurer."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a member of P.E.O., I want to thank you for your history lesson on our wonderful organization. We are a Philanthropic Educational Organization with a mission to help ladies further their education through loans, grants and scholarships. Over the years, both Chapter OS and N have assisted many local women achieve their goals. Just last year we assisted a talented young Chariton woman with a grant to help with some college expenses, allowing her to finish her education and earn a BS degree.