Founder Alice Bird Born May 8, 1850
Mary Alice Bird was born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on May 8, 1850, the daughter of the first physician in Henry County.
She was the most articulate of the Founders, a classical scholar and talented writer, performer and public speaker. She lived a long life and left P.E.O. a valuable store of letters, speeches, recollections and reflections. Full of literary references and wise advice, Alice’s writing has enriched the Sisterhood and its understanding of the early history. Many of her hand-written letters and articles have been preserved. Under the pen name Avis, she was the associate editor of The P.E.O. Record for its first few years.
Allie, as her friends called her, was tasked with writing the Oath for their new society. She later remembered composing it in the summer house: “wintry day though it was ... I was so full of great thoughts that the confusion of the children annoyed me, so I wrapped myself in a shawl and went there to compose the oath.” Later that day in the music room of Iowa Wesleyan, Allie was the first to take the Oath, and she was the first president.
Allie also wrote the first rudimentary Constitution, sitting in the spare bedroom, “looking at the bleak wintry landscape outside the window.” Years later, she recalled that the other six, “gobbled the constitution right down, so anxious were they to get moving; and we kept on our pilgrimage 56 years. Great changes have happened but the initial principle of P.E.O. remains the same; the Oath is unchanged and while somewhat sentimental, it carries with it tradition.” That tradition was “being loyal to all P.E.O.s and with whom we associate ... it means loyalty to our home folks, to our neighbors and to the strangers who pass our way.” Alice’s Constitution was the basis of our present-day Objects and Aims.
This blog post is adapted from We Who Are Sisters: 150 Years of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. It is available to purchase here.