150-year-old P.E.O. Sisterhood has local presence

Becca Haley, a young woman from Fairmont, W.Va., was pursuing her doctoral degree in “green chemistry” at the University of Cincinnati. Like most graduate students, her funds were limited.

Haley’s grandmother, Cynthia Woodward of Fairmont, suggested she apply for financial assistance — a Scholar Award from an organization named the P.E.O. Sisterhood. The application was submitted, and Haley was awarded $15,000 from P.E.O. to finish her education.

She now teaches organic chemistry at the River Falls campus of the University of Wisconsin. In the interim, she became a member of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, an organization whose mission is to “promote educational opportunities for women” and “help women reach for the stars.”

Her $15,000 award was a tiny segment of the money given to women across the United States and Canada, including international students pursuing degrees that will improve the lives of those in their homelands. Since 1907, more than 105,000 women have benefited from more than $321 million in P.E.O. funds.

P.E.O., an acronym for Philanthropic Educational Organization, has six programs to benefit women students: low-interest educational loan funds; international peace scholarships for international students; program for continuing education grants for women returning to school after a break in their education; scholar awards for PhD-level candidates; and STAR scholarships for high school seniors entering college. In addition, P.E.O. owns and supports Cottey College in Missouri, an independent all-women’s college that grants degrees in liberal arts and sciences.

Nearly all the money for P.E.O.’s loans, scholarships, awards and grants comes from the fund-raising efforts of local chapters in towns throughout the United States and Canada.

There are approximately 1,000 members in 27 local chapters across West Virginia. Weirton, Wheeling, Bridgeport, Buckhannon, Charleston, Elkins, Fairmont, Huntington, Lewisburg, Martinsburg, Morgantown, New Martinsville, Parkersburg and Philippi have one or more chapters. West Virginia’s local chapters convened in 1962 at Buckhannon to form a state chapter.

The P.E.O. Sisterhood was founded on Jan. 21, 1869, by seven women students at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The 225,000-member organization will celebrate its 150th year anniversary during the 2019 Convention of International Chapter in Des Moines.

International Chapter President Sue Baker said, “P.E.O.’s heritage is a story of 150 years of dreams and visions — dreams and visions that have the potential for all time.”

For information, visit the website peointernational.org.