Crystal Springs, Mississippi
Bessie Lackey Stapleton, Founder of Mississippi PTA
"I had a vision and like Banquo's Ghost 'it would not down.' The eyes of my own children and of all Mississippi children seemed to look into mine with a plea for help." These are the words of Bessie Lackey Stapleton, founder in Crystal Springs of the Missisippi Congress of Parents and Teachers in 1909.
As far back as 1888, a movement to help parents to understand child life had been initiated by the Child Study Association. Then in 1895, Alice McLelland Birney had so seriously reflected on the responsibility of both parents and teachers for the children of the world that she began to take steps that led eventually to the founding of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers which she had originally thought of as a National Congress of Mothers.
But it was Bessie Lackey Stapleton who had the vision and the determination to organize a state group for the special benefit of Mississippi children. Mrs. Stapletom's intellect, education and character were such that even a task of this magnitude was not too great for her. Born in Crystal Springs, she was particularly fortunate in her parents and in he life at home. Her mother, Elizabeth McRae Sumrall Stapleton, was a niece of Governor John J. McRae of Mississippi. Her father, Prof. J. J. Lackey, was a brilliant and far-seeing man. Though he was an orphan, it was his good fortune to have been educated by Henry Ward Beecher, the great American Congregational minister who was noted for his oratorical powers and for his championing of antislavery and woman suffrage. No doubt, much of Reverend Beecher's ardor for women's rights was reflected in Professor Lackey's teaching and in his instruction of his daughter.
Mrs. Stapleton had the advantage of a college education at Lea in New Orleans, later a part of Sophie Newcomb; and at Hillman in Clinton, Mississippi.
In 1888 she married Dr. R. B. Stapleton of Hattiesburg, and she lived in that city for thirty-two years, enjoying a very full life as wife, mother of four children, and devoted worker in church and civic affairs. Later, she did mission work in the mountains schools of North Carolina, and finally returned to Missisippi where she maintained residence in Jackson until her death in 1940.
It was during her very busy years in Hattiesburg that Mrs. Stapleton made the first movement toward establishing the Missisippi P. T. A. She called a meeting for September 19, 1905, in her own home where the idea was suggested and discussed by the small group. Encouraged by Mrs. Frederic Schoff, then national president of the Congress of Mothers and P. T. A., the faitful few nurtured the idea until October, 1909, when the formal organization was effected at Lake Chautauqua in Crystal Springs. Mrs. Stapleton became the first president; and her sister, Miss Margaret Lackey, had the honor of serving as secretary of the organizational meeting.
The Chautauqua grounds, on lovely wooded hills encircling a large lake, were famous to people from the state and from far away. The tabernacle, fitting gracefully into the contour of the sloping land and forming a natural amphitheater, accommodated several thousands of people and had been the setting for sermons, oratorial events, and musical programs by the great of the land. But no more earnest band of people ever met within the latticed walls than those who pledged themselves to serve the children of the state of Mississippi.
For two consecutive years after the organizational meeting, the annual convention was held in the Crystal Springs tabernacle during the Chautauqua season. Some matters of vital concern to the group during this early period and their action concerning these matters are today affecting the state and its children. At Columbia the Industrial School is the direct result of efforts for legislative appropriations for such an institution. And through the continual urging of Mrs. Stapletion, "Better Babies" became much more important than the prized "Better Hogs" and "Better Cows" of the state.
In 1914 Mrs. Stapleton, having served as president of the young organization since its first meeting in 1909, gave her final report as high-ranking officer and exultantly announced that there were more than one hunded Parent Teacher Associations in the state and, further, declared that she had the great dream of having an organization in every school in Mississippi.
Perhaps the dream of this gifted and dedicated woman can best be summarized by stating the first objective of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers: "To promote the welfare of children and youth in home, school, church, and community." Without doubt, the life and aspirations of Bessie Lackey Stapleton have influenced the life of every school child in Mississippi.
Dorothy Moore Alford
Dorothy Moore Alford, reared in the parsonage home of her parents, Rev. and Mrs. J. A. Moore, is a graduate of Millsaps College with majors in English and Religious Education and is a retired teacher of senior English in high school.
A course in journalism at college began her writing of feature stories; and after her retirement, she began writing a weekly feature for the Meteor. Many of her articles have appeared in the Sunday Clarion-Ledger - Jackson Daily News.
Mrs. Alford has had poetry and articles to appear in national publications; has had a play and an article in Mississippi Authors; has had several honors in the Literary Competion of the Mississippi Arts Festival, including honorable mention awarded by Eudora Welty for a short story; and last year won first place at the Festival for her television script, The Doll.
Her "Reflections and Recognitions" concerning her adopted hometown she has found most rewarding as, according to her, "Crystal Springs is a most interesting and lovable town."
Dorothy Moore Alford's book, "Reflections and Recognitions," can still be purchased at the Visitors Center in Crystal Springs, MS for $20.00. Mrs. Alford past away in April of 2007, but not before leaving to the people of Crystal Springs a comprehensive book of this historic old town.
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