BY KATIE MATTESON
Chances are pretty good that you’ve never heard of P.E.O., but with five chapters in Racine, it’s actually very likely that you know someone who’s a member. The initials stand for Philanthropic Educational Organization and it’s through conversations with those members, that you’ll learn about the organization’s mission of “promoting educational opportunities for women.”
What you won’t learn is the original meaning established by the founders on Jan. 21, 1869 in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. That knowledge is reserved for members only.
Although the organization has kept a very low profile throughout most of its long history, the P.E.O.’s upcoming 150th anniversary celebration is giving cause to more publicly celebrate its accomplishments.
According to the May-June issue of the P.E.O. Record, the international organization has given over $321 million in financial assistance to more than 105,000 recipients through its philanthropies, including:
- $195.4 million in Educational Loan Funds since 1907
- $37.9 million in International Peace Scholarships since 1949
- $55.3 million in Program for Continuing Education grants since 1973
- $24.5 million in Scholar Awards since 1991
- $8.5 million in STAR Scholarships since 2009
In addition, P.E.O. has owned and supported Cottey College, an independent, liberal arts and sciences for women located in Nevada, Missouri since 1927.
Each of the P.E.O.’s 6,000 chapters and almost 250,000 members support the organization’s philanthropic activities through the P.E.O.’s foundation.
The individual chapters contribute to specific funds with monies collected through member donations and local fundraising. In Racine, you’ll find local P.E.O. members at bake sales held at polling places, helping out with Open House Racine and selling soup at the credit union.
Each chapter holds 12 meetings per year and follow a prescribed ritual, passed along through generations. Membership is by invitation only.
A quorum is seven members, based on the number of original founders of the sisterhood started at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Representatives from Racine’s P.E.O. chapters gathered recently at the Racine Public Library to share their experiences and love of the organization.
Nancy Reeser explained that the members of the sisterhood represent a wide range of occupations and attract a variety of personalities. What they all share is a desire to support other women.
Molly Batzner, a graduate of Cottey College, said that she moved six times during her adult life and her first call in every new community would be to the local P.E.O. chapter.
“It provides a wonderful outlet for friendship,” Batzner said.
When speaking about the educational programs for women the P.E.O. funds, Linda Frank said how fulfilling it was to have a positive influence on the lives of other women.
“It’s about helping other women and assisting them to get through difficult times,” Rita Lamberton said.
Recommendations for scholarship recipients come through the local chapters and the members support the candidates through the application process which takes place on the national level.
“We’re always looking for candidates,” Judy Van Matre said, noting that each chapter makes their selections individually.
The group suggested that those interested in scholarships should ask school guidance counselors or local church women for contact information for individual P.E.O. members.
Visit peointernational.org for more information about the organization.