The Des Moines-based international women’s education organization P.E.O. opens a three-day conference at the Iowa Events Center today to honor its 150th anniversary with 6,000 members and spouses visiting the capital city.

There are more than a few prominent P.E.O. members. Gov. Kim Reynolds — Iowa’s first female governor — is a member of P.E.O., which stands for Philanthropic Educational Organization, but “the original meaning of the letters is reserved for members,” according to the group’s website. 

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst — Iowa’s first female member of Congress — also is a member. And so was Ola Babcock Miller, Iowa’s first female secretary of state and a graduate of Iowa Wesleyan College, which happens to be where the P.E.O. Sisterhood was formed on Jan. 21, 1869. Seven women started the group in a show of fellowship and unity in the early days of women attending college. 

Today, P.E.O. International has 6,000 local chapters with about 250,000 members in the United States and Canada. The group supports women’s education with scholarships, grants, loans and awards.

P.E.O.’s loan fund goes back to 1907, and overall the group has awarded $345 million to 109,000 women around the world. The money comes from donations and fundraisers, which are planned by local chapters. The group doesn’t receive any tax support. 

The conference is much bigger than usual this year in its first stop in Des Moines in decades because this year marks the group’s 150th birthday. Usually the conference draws a bit more than 3,500. The Iowa chapter spent 10 years planning the event, which Catch Des Moines expects to have a $3.8 million economic impact. Seventy-nine percent of the attendees are from out of state, and 1,500 volunteers are helping stage the event. 

In an interview, past P.E.O. President Maria Baseggio said some P.E.O. members will visit Iowa Wesleyan University to see the group’s roots. 

“We’re excited to be back in the state where P.E.O. was founded,” said Baseggio, who has made many trips to Des Moines for P.E.O. business as she moved from Florida to Michigan and now Philadelphia. “We thought it was appropriate for the big anniversary.”

“It’s truly been great to see how the city has grown,” Baseggio said of Des Moines. 

The organization’s headquarters at 3700 Grand Ave. has a newly installed garden along the major thoroughfare through town. Perhaps some of the conventioneers will see it as they take trips to Madison County’s covered bridges, Des Moines architectural sites, John Deere Des Moines Works, Pella, the Amana Colonies, Living History Farms and breweries. 

Conference sessions will cover philanthropy, personal professional branding, cooking and meditation and will include an appearance by the president of a school P.E.O. owns in Nevada, Mo., Cottey College.