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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Local women's organization celebrates 100 years

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  • The Newton chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood — short for “Philanthropic Educational Organization” — may have started small 100 years ago with just seven members. However, the organization — which celebrates its centennial anniversary this year — now has grown to more than 50 members between the ages of 18 and 98. Donna Anderson has been a member of the Newton chapter, known as “Chapter AG,” since 1985, and she is proud of how the organization has expanded throughout the years. “A small group can do a lot,” she said. The P.E.O. Sisterhood was founded in the late 1800s at Iowa Wesleyan College, during a time when not many women were able to pursue a higher education, Anderson said. Several girls were frustrated they weren’t invited to join other societies, and so they organized one of their own called “P.E.O.” “Women have been joining ever since, and education has always been a major emphasis,” Anderson said. The Newton Chapter AG was founded in the early 1900s when Nellie von der Heiden was encouraged by a Newton High School classmate living in California to start a chapter in Newton. Two other Newton P.E.O. chapters eventually branched off from Chapter AG: Chapter EQ in 1942 and Chapter IA in 1978. Chapter AG was recognized for its 100th anniversary at a recent state P.E.O. convention in Wichita. Anderson said the P.E.O.’s mission is to provide funds for women to go to college. It supports women who are just starting their college careers; women who dropped out of college and want to finish their education; and women who want to pursue an advanced degree, such as a master’s or a doctorate. The organization also owns a college in Missouri known as Cottey College. The organization looks for other ways it can help community members, such as remodeling a home for a person who has become wheelchair-bound. “We try to be aware of people in our community who might need a hand up,” Anderson said. The organization makes time for fun, as well, enjoying skits, songs, toasts and other activities at gatherings. They look out for each other, covering the dues of members who are going through difficult times. Anderson has enjoyed being a part of the Newton P.E.O. Chapter AG, and she has met many women through the organization she now looks up to as mentors. “They are all very outstanding women in the community,” she said.

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