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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