Alice J. McLellan Birney

Alice J. McLellan Birney

Alice McLellan Birney, cofounder of what became the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), always had a strong desire to succeed. She was only 15 when she completed high school and began attending Mount Holyoke. After attending Mount Holyoke, Birney studied medicine before pursuing a successful advertising career.

Birney cared deeply about children’s welfare and education, writing, “In the child and in our treatment of him rests the solution of the problems which confront the state and society today." Aiming to create a better world for children and youth by educating mothers on raising and educating children and on child welfare, Birney came up with the idea for the National Congress of Mothers. She and Phoebe Apperson Hearst rallied more than 2,000 people for a “Mothers’ Congress” held in Washington, D.C. in 1897. From it emerged the National Congress of Mothers, which Birney led as president until 1902. 

The National Congress of Mothers, which eventually became the PTA, worked for child labor laws, hot lunch programs, mandatory immunization, a public health service, and kindergarten classes. The group was open to members regardless of race, religion, or social status, and in two years, membership had grown to 50,000. Today the PTA serves more than seven million members.

After resigning as president because of illness, Birney stayed involved in the congress until her death in 1907. Her numerous articles about raising children were published in the 1905 book Childhood.

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Mount Holyoke College

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