Selena Sloan Butler (ca. 1872-1964)

Selena Sloan Butler organized the first National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) and cofounded the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, which is now a part of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). She centered her life's work on improving the educational environments and upholding the rights of all children, regardless of their race or situation.
Butler was born in Thomasville to William Sloan and Winnie Williams on January 4, probably in 1872. Her father was white, and her mother was of mixed descent, half Indian and half African American. She started life with her mother and sister but without her father's presence, although she did receive his monetary support. She attended a missionary-operated elementary school in Thomas County and studied at Spelman Seminary (later Spelman College). At the age of sixteen Butler graduated from Spelman and began a teaching career in Atlanta. She married Henry Rutherford Butler, a prominent African American doctor in Atlanta who had studied medicine at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Butler began to harness her energies toward protecting the rights of children after her son, Henry Jr., was old enough to attend school.
Butler was active in her community not only as a teacher of English and elocution but also as an organizer. She cofounded the Spelman College Alumnae Association, organized the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Atlanta YWCA, and was the first president of the Georgia Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. In 1929-30 she served on the Committee on the Education and Training of the Infant and Preschool Child for U.S. president Herbert Hoover's White House Conference on Child Health and Protection.
The first chapter of the NCCPT was founded at Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta in 1911, and by 1919 many other chapters had been formed across the state. At that point the local chapters banded together and became the Georgia Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. It closely followed the model set up by Alice Birney and Phoebe Hearst, who founded the National Congress of Mothers. The NCCPT and the Congress of Mothers worked closely with each other to improve the conditions in schools for all children as well as for teachers. The Congress of Mothers merged with the NCCPT in 1970 to form the current National PTA.
After the death of her husband in 1931 Butler lived in England for a short time while working in the Nursery School Association. Later she moved to Arizona and then to Los Angeles, California, to be with her son and his wife. Henry Jr. practiced medicine just as his father had.
Butler died of congestive heart failure on October 7, 1964, and was buried beside her husband in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Her portrait now hangs in the state capitol. In 1995 Butler was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.


Further Reading
American National Biography, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 4 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), s.v. "Butler, Selena Sloan."

The PTA Story: A Century of Commitment to Children (Chicago: National PTA, 1997).
Cite This Article
Womack, Carlise E. "Selena Sloan Butler (ca. 1872-1964)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 16 July 2020. Web. 09 July 2021.
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