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Race, Gender, and the Early PTA: Civic Engagement and Public Education, 1897–1924


by Christine Woyshner — 2003

This article examines the origins of the National Parent–Teacher Association and questions its current image as a white, middle-class women's association. Founded as the National Congress of Mothers in 1897, the association was wedded to late-nineteenth century maternalist ideology that held that all women were united across race, class, and religion in their particular obligation to ensure the proper rearing of all children. The author considers this maternalism and its role in the development of the organization. First, she argues that the emphasis on woman-as-mother allowed for the rapid expansion of a national organization, which by 1920 created considerable tension between women volunteers and male school administrators. By the 1920s, male administrators succeeded in containing the influence of the PTA by employing a rhetorical strategy that separated fundraising from volunteers’ educational work. Then, the author investigates the NCM's racially inclusive policy, a central component of maternalist thinking unique for this era, and argues that it posed the greatest challenge to the organization. This historical study raises questions about the role of civic voluntary associations in public education in a democracy.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 3, 2003, p. 520-544
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11112, Date Accessed: 3/29/2017 10:49:23 PM

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About the Author
  • Christine Woyshner
    Temple University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE WOYSHNER is an assistant professor of education at Temple University. She researches the history of voluntary organizations in shaping public education and the school curriculum. Her publications include Social Education in the Twentieth Century: Curriculum and Context for Citizenship, edited with Joseph Watras and Margaret Smith Crocco (Peter Lang Press, forthcoming) and “Political History as Women’s History: Toward a More Inclusive Curriculum,” in Theory and Research in Social Education, 30, no. 3 (2002): 354–380.
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