Document 1: Cora Bussey Hillis, One Way to Organize and Carry On a Mother's Union (Des Moines: Geo. A. Miller Printing, [circa 1900]), Cora Bussey Hillis Collection, Ms. 72, Box 1, Scrapbooks, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.
Cora Bussey Hillis devoted a significant amount of time in her early career to the National Congress of Mothers and the Iowa chapters she established. This pamphlet provided Hillis' general guidelines for organizing a mother's club in Iowa, establishing the philosophy behind the mother's clubs and exhorting new members to uphold this philosophy in all their actions. The pamphlet offers evidence for how these active, educated women conceived of their duty to their community of children and mothers.
One Way to Organize and Carry
On a Mothers' Union.
Do not organize a Mothers' Club merely for the sake of having a club.
But if you know some mothers who need help in their motherhood; if you are a mother who needs help; if you are a teacher, spinster, aunt or grandmother, who understands child-nature in some measure, who knows how, or wants to know how to lead the little ones by the pleasant bonds of love and justice, and if there is a place in your community where such work will result in good then form a Mothers' Club.
If there are conditions existing in your schools which you would like to see improved; if the teacher of your children needs someone to share her burden with her, then form a Mothers' Club.
If you wish to beautify your town or assist in the better carrying on of any department of municipal housekeeping, then form a Mothers' Club.
If there are neglected children in your town; if there are boys and girls growing up into evil ways; if the cigarette habit is prevalent; if the taste for bad literature is being cultivated, and habits of idleness and vagrancy being formed, then organize a Mothers' Club.
If among the rich, dress, fashion and society supersede in the parents' minds the physical, mental and moral welfare of their children, then form a Mothers' Club.
" 'Mother' is still a name to conjure with, growing in potency as the roll of the centuries lengthens, and increasing in scope, till, as the twentieth tally writes itself, 'the mother in the home,' merges into the broader term, 'the mother for the home.' We have at last realized, and are teaching the world to understand, that a woman discharges her duty in the home better when she also concerns herself with all the outside influences which combine to thwart or to aid in the creation and maintenance of the ideal household. Man can not live for himself alone, nor can the mother live for the family alone. She must take into her heart and thought all homes, all children, and all motherhood. It is because of this new perception of the largeness of the mothers' work that mothers' clubs have been created. Through combined experience and combined influence they should produce better conditions for home and social life, and a fuller interpretation of this life, in village, town and city; while our National Congress of Mothers hopes to combine and crystalize all these smaller influences into an aggregate that shall, in time affect our life as a nation."
It is chiefly in a spirit of helpfulness that the Mothers' Union should be formed, and since helpfulness ceases to be itself when hedged about with too many restrictions, long and perplexing constitutions and by-laws are out of place. A statement of the name, officers, dates and time of meeting is all that will be needed. Such an organization must not interfere with home duties, and should, therefore, begin late in the fall and close early in the spring, before the last trying weeks of school; and each meeting should be rather short than long, that the average mother may often have time for it. I believe that weekly meetings are advisable. The housekeeper has so many unexpected demands made upon her time and attention that she must not be forced to remember whether it is this week or next, but may know that in any week, when she can find time, there will be something for her. Sessions should not extend over more than an hour and a half. The majority of mother's cannot spare a whole afternoon.
Twenty minutes should be allowed for the paper or talk, the rest of the hour being given to discussion. These discussions are the most valuable part of the work, for many mothers, who could not muster courage to read a paper, or make a formal talk, are led to ask questions, and give useful information in the course of a discussion, which rouses their interest, and makes them forget themselves.
Many mothers' meetings are carried on in connection with a church society, or a temperance union, and accomplish untold good; but where possible it is better to organize in such a way as to be free from the charge of sectarianism, and thus gather in all who might otherwise refuse to come. For the same reason, choose as a place of assembly a school house rather than a church, and there will be an additional advantage of a bond between the club and the schools, which will frequently prove useful, and will attract new members.
"In organizing the mother's club it will be found that many who most need its benefits are entirely oblivious to that fact, and must be interested in other ways. Ministers, doctors and dentists are useful in such cases. There are few mothers who can resist the drawing power of a physician's talk on children's contagious diseases, a dentist's presentation of the development and care of teeth, a minister's discourse on the childish will, or a midwife's exposition of how to dress a baby. Teachers are also a great attraction, and competent instructors are in sympathy with the work and helpful to it. If there should chance to be a kindergarten in your town, a few model Froebel hours might be given before the union, and there should sometimes be an hour devoted to the children's pleasure, when all the children of the place should be invited, not to eat, but to take part in songs, dances and kindergarten games."
Some Names Suggested
Mothers' Club, Mothers' Meeting, Mothers' Class, Parents' Association, Fireside School, Parlor Club, Child Study Club, Child Culture Class, Mothers' Round Table, Mothers' Mutual Improvement Society, Parents' Union, Parents' and Teachers' Union, etc.
Having formed the club, adopt a few simple rules or by-laws, have as little "red-tape" as possible; be informal; be punctual; open and close the meeting exactly on time; outline a simple course of reading.
"A large number of mothers are so unaccustomed to composition that it would be too great a task to impose upon them the writing of a paper. Such women are frequently willing to read or even discuss work prepared by someone else, and there is a complete treasure-house to draw upon. Miss Harrison's 'Study Child Nature,' Kate Douglas Wiggin's 'Children's Rights,' and similar books, will furnish food for many meetings. The various adaptation of Froebel's 'Education of Man' are more useful for most clubs than Froebel himself, for while he saw greatly, he saw but darkly. The W.C.T.U. publishes a variety of pamphlets at low prices, well adapted to club work, and the kindergarten leaflets sent out by most supply houses are also useful. The printed reports of the National Federation of Woman's Clubs, and of the Congress of Mothers furnish good material for discussion, while such periodicals as the North American, Forum, Arena and Atlantic Monthly, and educational reviews, frequently contain articles bearing on mothers' work, and fruitful of ideas. There are many kindergarten and child study magazines within the time and purse and understanding of any mother. On one day of each month important articles in these can be assigned to several mothers for digestion and discussion. This has been found to be a very profitable plan, and it has introduced the books to primary teachers. In fact, without many original papers much of value may be accomplished, and the way paved for more individual work. Poole's Index to Periodicals will indicate numerous appropriate articles. I agree with George McDonald's curate. What is the use of preparing a second rate talk and labeling it original, to the loss of your hearers, when you have ready at hand the very heart of the matter by a master?"
Every mothers' club should plan to do some good work for the town or the schools.
Every club should send a quarterly report to the State Regent, in Des Moines.
Active work along Congress of Mothers' lines is the most patriotic work women can undertake.
We have great need for active, earnest workers in every town of every county in Iowa.
Let our people realize that intelligent training of parents in care and education of children means a higher standard of public and private morals, improved hygienic sanitary and physical conditions in town and country. Fewer blind, cripple, dumb, or otherwise defective children born into the world. Fewer vagrants, delinquents, insane and criminals to be supported in our expensive jails, hospitals, asylums and penitentiaries. Less ignorance and illiteracy; less poverty, sin and suffering. Let our people realize that Congress of Mothers' work, faithfully carried on, will mean a better, higher type of citizenship for our beautiful Iowa – then let them work.
Programs for Iowa Mothers' Clubs.
The Child-Culture Department of Midland Schools (published in Des Moines; price $1.00, or $5.00 in clubs of six) will be the medium of communication between Iowa mothers' clubs. All subscriptions should be ordered through the State Regent.
Every month will appear a program ready for use in clubs, subjects for discussion, brief articles from best authorities, outlines for study, lists of books and latest Congress news. There will also be a Question Box and cases submitted will be answered to the best of our ability.
Need of More Literature.
Clubs and individual workers in child-study are daily calling for more literature. To supply this demand we have determined to raise funds to put traveling libraries of books helpful to mothers and teachers in the field. One or more traveling libraries are needed in every county; 30 to 50 books make a great library to loan to clubs for a period of three months at a time.
Memorial Library Fund.
Anyone whose home has been visited by the Angel of Death and bereft of a beloved child, who wishes to establish a beautiful memorial to their darling, can do so by giving $20.00, $10.00 or $5.00 to the fund as a permanent memorial. Each library so given will be called by the name (if so desired) of the little child whose memory is thus observed (as "the Eddie Jones Library") and a report will be sent annually to the parents telling where the books have been and what service they have rendered. All such gifts for Iowa will be gratefully acknowledged by the Iowa State Regent.
We have had made a beautiful Congress button representing a mother and child, copied from the well known classic, "The Madonna of the Chair." Funds raised by sale of buttons will be used for the traveling library and for organization expenses.
Membership fees in the National Congress of Mothers is only 2 cents a month or 25 cents a year.
Clubs can affiliate with the Congress by paying a fee of $5.00 or a per capita fee of 25 cents for each member.
All fees in Iowa should be sent to Iowa State Regent.
Mrs. Isaac Lea Hillis.
1625 Sixth Avenue.