The 150 Year Women’s March of P.E.O.

When I hear about the Women’s March, I think about P.E.O. (a Philanthropic Educational Organization), and how they began their march for women 150 years ago.  Our seven founders, then students of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, marched single file into the chapel wearing identical aprons they made to announce their new society.  

Little did they know that by 2019, over a quarter of a million women would join them, with the goal of changing the world by offering scholarships, grants and loans to women seeking high education. 

I know how grateful these women are, because I’m one of the recipients of a P.E.O. loan. I had always wanted my masters degree, and because of the P.E.O. loan named ELF (Educational Loan Fund), I was able to complete my Master of Arts in Servant Leadership. Newly divorced, this degree not only gave me the confidence to march into  the field of publishing, it also gave me the added benefit of feeling the unconditional love and support from my sisters. 

Fast forward to this year. On January 18, 2019, a group of P.E.O. chapters held a sesquicentennial party, and our chapter DH (think Dear Hearts) joined with Chapter ED to plan this event to celebrate our sisterhood—complete with a reenactment of the original march. And reminiscent of the founders, these seven modern-day sisters marched up to the front of a church’s fellowship hall  to kick off our celebratory tea. 

Our featured speaker, Jacqueline Dawson, a state leader for many years, was our speaker.  Her work on the International board overlapped with our party, yet she traveled 1500 miles, during Iowa storms, to keep her promise to us.

The cool thing about Jacqueline Dawson, is that after her term as our state president in 2015, she saw a need and filled that need. She witnessed the immediate benefit high school girls gained by attending a weeklong leadership seminar at Cottey College. Yet, money can be tight for many families, and so her chapter, BL, set up a fund in her name, to reimburse sophomore and junior high school girls for this summer leadership camp—the only state to have such a fund. 

As a committee member, I was in charge making sure her speaker requests were filled, and wrote her introduction. I’ve done this many times before, yet never have I worked with a more personable, low-maintenance leader. Someone so active and so well regarded, taught me that service embodies true leadership. Her address to over 130 women, our biggest crowd ever, was a testament to how deeply she was respected. And respect is a byproduct of passion—and her actions exude passion. 

Marches will come and go, and yet the most important place to march, is in the service of others. I’m proud to be a member of a group with leaders who keep us on the path of service to women everywhere. 

Keep marching, sisters!


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