P.E.O. was founded on January 21, 1869, by seven students at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. This circle of kindred spirits – bonded by their enthusiasm for women's opportunities – eventually expanded to include women off campus as well. Through membership, the P.E.O. Sisterhood has brought together more than a half a million women in the United States and Canada who are passionate about helping women advance through education, while supporting and motivating them. 

Friendship is the cornerstone of P.E.O. – it is the legacy left by our Founders and it thrives in our unique Sisterhood. P.E.O. exists to be a source of encouragement and support for women to realize their potential in whatever worthwhile endeavor they choose.

True to the mission of promoting educational opportunities for women, education continues to be the primary philanthropy of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. In fact, the P.E.O. Sisterhood proudly sponsors six international philanthropies, or projects, designed to assist women with their educational goals.

As a result, P.E.O. is clearly making a difference in the lives of women all over the world. Since its inception in 1869, the nonprofit organization has helped more than 116,000* women pursue educational goals by providing over $383 million* in grants, scholarships, awards and loans. The Sisterhood also owns and supports Cottey College.

As of April 2021, P.E.O. has awarded:

In addition, P.E.O. has owned and supported Cottey College, an independent, baccalaureate-granting liberal arts and sciences institution, since 1927. In 2020-21, 75 percent of Cottey students were enrolled in a 4-year program. 

Grant, loan and award recipients – as well as Cottey College students – need not be members of P.E.O. With the exception of international students who receive International Peace Scholarships, each recipient is sponsored by a P.E.O. chapter. This allows the chapter members to be a meaningful part of "their" student's life.

*As of April 2021