The first national gathering of the organization known today as the PTA was convened in Washington 96 years ago as the National Congress of Mothers. While the group changed its name in 1924 to the National Congress of Parent-Teacher Associations -- the title it still carries -- PTAs remain widely perceived as the realm of moms.
Factually, that's correct. Of the 105 officials on the PTA's national board, about 83 percent are women. The leadership figures for Maryland PTAs run along the same lines. In Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties, for example, about 75 percent of the local PTAs have female presidents.
Lately, though, more men are making inroads into PTAs. The number of male presidents in Howard associations climbed from six last year to eight this year, with the figure for other male PTA officers jumping from 12 to 20. According to Arundel PTA president Carolyn Roeding, the number of male presidents, officers and members in her locality has been on a steady incline since the early 1980s. Besides the 16 male presidents in Arundel, about 100 male officers are also serving.
Both the state and national PTA offices view this as a happy development. Rightly so. Maryland PTA president Vicki Rafel says, "This is a trend we're seeing statewide. We try to encourage this kind of diversity . . ." The change reflects the growing involvement of dads in areas of their childrens' lives that formerly, and unfairly, were dumped in the laps of moms. Changing diapers at 3 a.m., taking charge of visits to the pediatrician and other duties once regarded as "women's work" are no longer viewed by most males with fear or disdain. Now they want to help run the local PTA, too.
Cynics may explain this shift by noting that men have had to get involved since more than half of American women hold down jobs outside the home. But it's just as probable that many men have realized they should take more of a hand in child-rearing, not simply out of fairness and responsibility but also out of a desire to get in on the fun and satisfaction of bringing up the kids.
Do the men bring anything different to the PTAs? Ms. Roeding answers by asking, "Is there a difference between the way men and women think? . . . I think men tend to look at things in a more logical, reasoned manner, while women are more sensitive to the human side of things. But now all these elements are being tossed together. It's like a stew. It's different. And definitely more interesting than what was happening before."