By Adrienne Fawcett
Recently I was asked to give a presentation on community news to a P.E.O. chapter in Lake Forest. My neighbor in Lake Bluff, Judy Phillips, invited me and I was delighted to talk with her group of women, who have been getting together every week for some 30 years. I was just as interested in learning about them as they were in GazeboNews, because I had never heard of the P.E.O. Sisterhood.
Debra Mell, a member of the chapter, said P.E.O. is an educational organization that was established in 1869 by seven young women, and that it’s one of the oldest women’s organizations in North America. P.E.O. is an acronym for … something, but members of the group are the only people who know what it means. That’s the extent of the secrecy, for everything they do is for the good of other people and organizations.
Originally begun as a friendship society on the campus of Iowa-Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, P.E.O. has evolved into one of the largest nonsectarian, community-based organizations with nearly 6,000 chapters and more than 280,000 members in the United States and Canada, according to the P.E.O. Illinois website.
Lake Forest and Lake Bluff boast not one, but three local chapters. Meetings are held monthly, typically in private homes and membership is by invitation.
As a philanthropic organization, P.E.O. supports six philanthropies that include ownership of a two-year women’s college, Cottey College, and five programs that provide higher educational assistance through scholarships, grants, awards and loans to assist women in furthering their education.
Illinois State Chapter chapter also provides housing assistance to qualified senior Illinois women and emergency financial assistance to both men and women who meet the application criteria. For more information about the organization, visit the P.E.O. website at www.peoillinois.org.