In a small West Virginia town in 1929, three educators — Dr. Paul Opp, a professor at Fairmont State College; Harry Leeper, a teacher at East Fairmont High School; and Ernest Bavely, Opp’s secretary — begin a series of meetings to discuss the creation of an honorary organization for high school theatre students. The organization, which will consist of troupes of students that earn membership by doing good work in their school’s theatre programs, will be called the International Thespian Society. The two-millionth Thespian was inducted into the organization during fall 2009.
In 1989, the board establishes the Educational Theatre Association to oversee the operation of both the Thespian Society and the professional organization for high school theatre directors. The organization grows to more than 5,000 professional members and 100,000 active student Thespians in more than 4,500 affiliated high schools and middle schools today.
In 1995, the Educational Theatre Foundation is incorporated as the fundraising arm for the association. In 2017, behind the strength and stature of the larger association, the Educational Theatre Foundation national board is assembled and authorized to launch the foundation as a national leader in philanthropy to enhance excellence and to build access to school theatre for every child.