This year the ladies of the Philanthropic Educational Organization are celebrating 150 years of “helping women reach for the stars.”

The P.E.O. Sisterhood is an international women’s organization headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa with chapters throughout the United States and Canada. P.E.O.’s primary focus is providing educational opportunities for women through scholarships, grants, awards, loans and the stewardship of Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri.

P.E.O. was founded Jan. 21, 1869 by seven students at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, and now includes nearly 6,000 chapters and almost half a million members. The anniversary will be recognized during the 74th Convention of International Chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood held Sept. 12-14 in Des Moines.

Since its inception, the nonprofit organization has helped more than 105,000 women pursue educational goals by providing more than $321 million in grants, scholarships, awards and loans.

Two Central Texas chapters of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, Chapters HC and EW, are also recognizing the international organization’s 150th birthday.

Mary Ann Morton, past president of Chapter HC and chairwoman of the State Convention, said chapter members have been celebrating the anniversary at every monthly meeting, and will have a special gathering in Temple in September.

Morton said there are more than 250 P.E.O. chapters in Texas. The first P.E.O. chapters in the state were founded in 1905, but Texas didn’t join International until 1928.

Chapter EW was organized in 1975 and HC came along in 1987. Both chapters meet on Mondays; HC meets in the morning and EW in the evenings.

“It’s nice because it lets the ladies that work have a night chapter to go to,” said Jeanie Jones, member of Chapter HC and past state president in New Mexico.

Pat Wurster, past president of Chapter EW, added that having a night chapter is convenient for the many members who are teachers.

“As new chapters are formed, they usually come out of the old chapters,” she said. “So Chapter EW was getting quite large and so it was time to move. And then it was a nighttime chapter and they had need for a daytime chapter as well, so that’s the reason that HC became a viable chapter.”

“It’s not like belonging to a book club or something like that,” Morton said. “We’re specifically interested in promoting education.”

She said there are groups all over the world loosely associated with P.E.O.

“But more importantly, our purpose is to raise money so these scholarships can be funded,” Morton said.

One of the available scholarships is available for people pursuing a doctorate degree. Nearly 500 people apply annually and usually 80 scholarships a year are given. This year, because of the anniversary, 150 students will receive scholarships up to $20,000.

Each member of P.E.O. has personal reasons for supporting education so passionately.

Jones, a 50-year member of P.E.O., said education has been her life.

“(PEO) has been a lifelong organization, and it is the most important organization that I’ve ever belonged to and want to continue,” she said.

Marianna White, president of Chapter HC, said education never stops for anyone; we’re all learning every day.

“And it’s wonderful to be able to find women who need support in order to continue their education and to be able to do something to make that possible,” she said.

Lyn Miller, past president and corresponding secretary of Chapter EW, said when you educate women, you better their families.

“I came from an educational family; my mother was a teacher, my great-grandmother was a superintendent of schools, and they were all PEO’s, so I’m a fourth generation PEO,” she said.

Wurster said education brings quality to life, and Jones added that it’s a joy to see what recipients do with their education.

“It’s exciting to be involved in an organization where we are helping women, and you see the pleasure they get out of it, because we don’t lose contact with them. We maintain it,” Morton said.

She said P.E.O. members support women throughout their educational career, not just with money, but with letters and encouragement and invitations to programs and meetings.

“But after all that, we still try to keep in touch with them, so it’s an ongoing love,” Morton said. “And, of course, what they learn from education spills over to other areas of their lives too.”