MLFTC’s oldest alumna takes us back in time

By

Meghan Krein

The stock market crashed. The Dust Bowl happened. Women couldn’t find jobs. They called it the Dirty Thirties. It was 1937, during the Great Depression, and Mildred Shaw (BAE ’39) was trying to register at Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe to complete her degree in education. She had just finished her associate degree in education at a community college in Fullerton, California, and had moved to Phoenix with her husband to be close to his family. 

“I was told I’d never get a teaching job because most jobs were given to men,” she says. Shaw tried anyway, “And they told me I couldn’t because I was married.” 

Mildred Shaw

Mildred Shaw, today, at her home.

Shaw was determined. “I always wanted to be a teacher. My mom wanted to be a teacher but didn’t get the opportunity to get an education, and I love my mother,” she says. The next day, she took off her wedding band and went back to register. It worked. Shaw graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and, at 102 years old, is believed to be Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College’s oldest alum. 

Eventually, Shaw was hired at a grammar school in Tempe where she taught art and English. She went on to teach here in the valley, teaching “students who were mostly the children of cotton pickers” and earning a yearly salary of $900. 

When Pearl Harbor happened in 1941, Shaw’s husband enlisted in the Air Force and the couple moved to Kansas, then Texas and then California. Because there was a shortage of male teachers due to the war, Shaw taught fifth grade and coached boys’ football. 

Shaw went on to consult on curriculum and art in the Duarte, California, school district — for 27 years. At the age of 73, she retired. During her retirement, Shaw and her husband visited all 50 states in their motorhome. Her husband passed away in 2007, just a few months shy of their 70th wedding anniversary. 

Shaw lives at her home in Arcadia, California, with a home health care nurse — and a collection of over 2,000 salt and pepper shakers — where she relishes reminiscing about her career. “I loved the students. I loved working with teachers to help them improve their classrooms.”