PTA History

Parent Teacher Association History

The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has a long and rich history. Local and state PTAs and the National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA) have worked for over 100 years toward bettering the lives of children in education, health and safety.  

Today’s PTA is a network of millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family engagement in schools. Join a PTA today! 

Washington State PTA History

Washington State PTA (WSPTA) was founded in April 1905 by Abby Williams Hill of Tacoma, an artist who saw the need for an organization to support Washington’s children. Thanks to Abby’s leadership and vision—and that of thousands of parents and teachers who have carried her vision forward—WSPTA has been a leading voice for children in the state ever since. 

Washington State PTA State Presidents since 1905

In addition to supporting advocacy at the national level, below are specific examples of PTA successes in Washington: 

  • Working with key advocacy partners and legislators, recent advocacy successes have included:  
    – adoption of frameworks for Family and Community Engagement and Social Emotional Learning
    – laws to decrease gun violence, including youth suicide
    laws to address the teacher shortage
    – requirements for universal screening for highly capable services
    – funding stabilization during COVID, additional levy authority, and protection of local effort assistance funding
    – increased funding for special education services
    – requirements and funding for paraeducator training
    – expansion of eligibility for early childhood education and assistance programs
    – raising the age for tobacco and vaping to 21
    – a comprehensive school safety law that includes family/student reunification plans
    – increasing access and affordability of post-secondary education
    – laws and funding addressing the digital divide
    – laws to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change
    – comprehensive school safety law that includes family/student reunification plans and support for school seismic upgrades and other environmental hazards
    – and increased school staffing to support students’ physical and mental health
  • Making sure students have basic needs met, Breakfast After the Bell was a priority issue for a number of years until it was signed into law in 2018. 
  • WSPTA was a founding member of the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) group that brought the McCleary lawsuit to fully fund basic education and was an active participant through June 2018 when the Supreme Court closed the case. 
  • Working collaboratively with other education and child advocacy groups, WSPTA played a leading role in securing the passage of major education reform efforts in 2009-2010. 
  • Thousands of volunteers from WSPTA helped secure the passage of the “simple majority” for levies amendment to the state constitution in 2007. 
  • As part of a coalition of community and statewide groups, WSPTA was instrumental in promoting the use of seat belts to save lives. 
  • When local levies failed in the 1950s and kindergartens went unfunded, Washington PTAs first organized kindergarten “co-ops,” then worked to secure state funding for universal kindergarten. 
  • When moms went to work during World War II, Washington PTAs arranged day care for their children. 
  • Before there was public funding for well-child exams, PTAs hosted back-to-school “round ups” with medical volunteers. 
  • WSPTA coined the term “preschool” and mentored parents of toddlers long before early childhood education was accepted and expected. 

Washington State PTA Today

Washington State PTA (WSPTA) is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in Washington state. It is an innovative, forward-thinking, effective, global community. It includes over 80,000 members in nearly 800 PTAs. The organization is a vibrant, active association of people from all walks of life and backgrounds, working together toward a common vision to make every child’s potential a reality. Our efforts toward that vision include: 

  • Being a strong voice advocating for all children and youth at local and state levels through a combination of grassroots advocacy, staff and volunteers to represent the association at the state capitol in Olympia, and participation in key statewide advocacy coalitions and OSPI workgroups 
  • View our current legislative priorities
  • Resources to help local PTAs improve family engagement, which research shows improves student outcomes 
  • Leadership resources and training and for thousands of local PTA leaders each year. This leadership development program helps them run their PTAs more effectively and prepares them to assume greater leadership roles in their communities and across Washington 
  • The Reflections® Program that gives thousands of children each year the opportunity to express themselves through the arts 
  • The Scholarship Program that provides approximately $10,000 in financial support for graduating seniors from Washington public schools with active PTAs during their first year of post-high school education 
  • The WSPTA Essay Contest that explores the important and varied influencers in the lives and education of children – from the child’s perspective
  • The WSPTA Game Development Competition that provides middle and high school students the opportunity to test their skills in computer programming or board game development 

National PTA History

Founded in 1897 as the National Congress of Mothers by Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, National PTA ( is a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education.

As the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the nation, National PTA is the conscience of the country for children and youth issues. Through advocacy, as well as family and community education, National PTA has established programs and called for legislation that improves our children’s lives, such as:

  • Creation of kindergarten classes
  • Child labor laws
  • Public health service
  • Hot and healthy lunch programs
  • Juvenile justice system
  • Mandatory immunization
  • Arts in education
  • School safety

A Legacy of Advocacy and Education

Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst founded the organization when women did not have the right to vote and social activism was not popular. However, they believed mothers would support their mission to eliminate threats that endangered children, and in early 1897, they started a nationwide campaign.

On February 17, 1897, more than 2,000 people—mostly mothers, but also fathers, teachers, laborers and legislators—attended the first convocation of the National Congress of Mothers in Washington, D.C. Twenty years later, 37 chartered state congresses existed.

In 1970, National PTA and the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) — founded by Selena Sloan Butler in Atlanta, Ga.—merged to serve all children.

Learn more about the history of National PTA.