Looking Back: Gwendolyn Shakespeare — a teacher forever remembered

Gwendolyn Shakespeare

Over 86 years ago, when I entered first grade in the Edmonds School District, I certainly never had any idea that so many years later I would still remember many of my school teachers. A few are remembered in special ways.

My first four years were spent at Alderwood Manor Grade School, and there I especially recall my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Mae Delamater.  Mrs. Delamater went beyond teaching reading, writing and arithmetic—during the sometimes dark and dreary days of the Great Depression—she taught us—both boys and girls—to enjoy music and dancing.  I still remember stumbling through the Viennese Waltz, a graceful Varsovienne, and a rousing Schottische.

At Edmonds High School, where I graduated in 1945, I had the chance to have two teachers who would have a great impact on my working years, as well as my private times—George Hatch, my history teacher, and Miss Mildred Johnson, who taught the basic skills of the business world.

However, every once in a while, one special person you meet during your lifetime inspires and influences you to such an extent, he or she is remembered above all others.  For me, that person was Miss Gwendolyn Shakespeare, a long-time teacher at Edmonds Grade School.

Over 82 years ago, at the age of 10, I entered fifth grade at Edmonds Grade School and met Miss Gwendolyn Valentine Shakespeare for the first time. Actually, I had seen her before — she lived just two blocks south of my family’s residence at Fourth and Daley near downtown Edmonds. In the fall of 1937, she became my fifth-grade home-room and penmanship teacher. In the electronic world of today, correct penmanship appears no longer important, but 1937 was a different time, with different values. With her beautiful handwriting, and having received three Palmer Method penmanship teaching awards, Miss Shakespeare would probably shake her head at such an appalling change in the world of today.

Edmonds Grade School at 700 Main St., courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum. The building is now the Frances Anderson Center

When I was in her classroom, I didn’t realize that Miss Shakespeare was teaching me more than just the proper handwriting skills. She instilled in me the concept that any chore tackled should be done to the best of my ability. Another lesson I learned from Miss Shakespeare was that manners and how we treat other people are important. Also, I was small for my age — she told me to always stand as if I were tall. I find I still try to do that — although, today, at my advanced age, sometimes, it is not easy.

Miss Shakespeare’s teachings have always influenced my daily life. Whenever I was working at some task, or had a decision to make, her words would come to mind. My immediate thought became: Would Miss Shakespeare approve? I have often wondered, was it just me, or did she have that same influence on the lives of others in her classroom?

With much wisdom, Rev. Robert Fulghum, popular American author and former pastor of the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church, wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. For me, I learned some never-to-be-forgotten wisdom from Miss Shakespeare when I was in the fifth grade.

In the seventh grade, our class left the little grade school on the hill to continue our schooling in the Edmonds High School building, and, I lost contact with Miss Shakespeare. Decades later, no longer young myself, my husband and I stopped by the Edmonds Retirement Center to visit a friend residing there. As we walked down the hall, I happened to glance to my right; there on a door, I saw a nameplate that read “Gwendolyn Shakespeare.” I just had to stop to see if she was home. As she answered my tap on the door, I saw that she was no longer taller than I was. Well into her 80s, she was still slender and her posture perfect — and, of course, I had grown taller. To me, my fifth-grade teacher didn’t seem to have changed, and I immediately recognized her. I introduced myself and my husband. Just imagine, Miss Shakespeare remembered me.

She made a pot of tea and served us some cookies, and the three of us sat and talked of old and present times. She said to call her Gwen, but somehow, I just couldn’t do that. She had been Miss Shakespeare to me for too many years.

She was astounded when I told her the story of how her name and words had remained with me. Miss Shakespeare’s eyes lit up — she seemed both surprised and pleased. I’m glad I had a chance to tell her how much she had meant to me. Was I the only one to tell her that I thought she was a wonderful teacher? I hope not.

The childhood home of Gwendolyn Shakespeare at 3131 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.

Gwendolyn Valentine Shakespeare was born on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1907, in Everett. Her father, Noah Shakespeare (1877-1952), was born in England, came to this country in 1895 and became a citizen in 1899. He was a well-known attorney in Everett, as well as serving as a municipal court judge for 15 years. Miss Shakespeare’s mother Lulu Shakespeare (1880-1970) was also a practicing attorney in Everett, having been admitted to the bar in 1911. Very active in community affairs, Lulu Shakespeare received Everett’s “Woman of Achievement” award in 1949. The family’s longtime home was located at 3131 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett. The house is gone now and the property has been vacant for a number of years. Noah and Lulu Shakespeare raised their four surviving children in the Rockefeller Avenue home. One daughter had died at the age of 4 years.

Gwendolyn Shakespeare attended kindergarten and grade school at the old Jefferson School in Everett, and graduated from Everett High School in 1925. She then graduated from Bellingham Normal School. She attended the University of Washington, where she received her bachelor of arts degree.

She taught for three years at Lake Stevens and then took a one-year vacation from teaching. Realizing she missed the children, in the 1930s she accepted a teaching position at Edmonds Grade School. In 1950, she transferred to Everett, where she taught third grade at Jackson Elementary. Miss Shakespeare remained with the Everett School District until retirement in the mid-1970s.

Gwen Shakespeare in her 1925 school photo.

In addition to her teaching career, Gwendolyn Shakespeare — like her mother — was active in the community; especially in those activities that involved children. She also enjoyed sports, such as golf and tennis. She traveled throughout the entire United States, as well as Mexico and Canada; and, of course, Europe. While teaching school in Edmonds, she shared the home of her long-time friend Miss Frances Anderson, teacher and principal at Edmonds Grade School. Their friendship lasted until Miss Anderson’s death in 1990.

Gwendolyn Shakespeare lived at her Rockefeller Avenue family home in Everett until about 1982, when she moved to the Edmonds Retirement Center. She died in Everett on March 5, 2002 at the age of 95.

Since I first wrote about Gwendolyn Shakespeare about 10 years ago for the Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project, I came across her graduation picture in the 1925 Everett High School yearbook Nesika. In the description next to her photo, Gwendolyn Shakespeare was called a joyful girl. I would agree — it certainly was a joy for me to be in her classroom when I was 10 years old and in the fifth grade.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng, a grateful student

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds.







  1. Thank you for writing this article so we can all get to know this wonderful women. And I appreciated how the issue of penmanship was such a value then and now it is almost nonexistent! Some changes just don’t seem for the better. Which can be true, but is also a sign to me that I am getting older. Seen a bit too many changes.

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