This is an excerpt of “Remembering Napa Life after WWII” by Jeff Johnson, an article first published in the Vol. 22, No. 3 edition of Tidings, our quarterly newsletter. To get your copy of Tidings, become a member today!
One of the most beloved of all teachers and administrators demonstrated an unconditional love for children and music. Irene Snow was a woman of fine personal character and a teacher of unquestionable merit. She dedicated her entire adult life to education. Irene Snow was born and raised near Portland and educated at St. Francis College and Academy in eastern Oregon. Snow began her teaching career giving piano lessons, and her lifelong passion for music stemmed from her love of piano. She came to Napa in 1916 to teach eighth grade in Chiles Valley, at High Valley School.
For a short period of time she moved around various San Francisco Bay Area school districts. She taught elementary school in Contra Costa County and Nevada, and then returned to Napa as the new principal of Salvador Elementary School, opened in 1925. In 1927, Snow was appointed principal of the John L. Shearer Elementary School on Pine Street in Napa. Nine years later she was promoted to Superintendent of Schools for Elementary Instruction. She held this position until her retirement in 1952. As evidence of her professional dedication and love of education, Snow affiliated with professional associations including California Elementary Administrators and the National Superintendents and Principals Association. Miss Snow was a member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and was awarded Woman of the Year in 1957 by the California Retired Teachers Association. She spent years traveling during her the summer months as well as attending education seminars. The education seminars aided her in the quest to enhance the teaching profession and assist the teachers in the goals of becoming better educators.
She stressed the ethics of behavior that all parents hoped to see in their children and especially in their children’s teachers. Irene Snow insisted that new schools be built throughout the community during the years immediately following WWII. At that time, Napa experienced huge population growth due to the rapid expansion of the military industrial complex at Mare Island and Basalt/Kaiser Steel, as well as other wartime and post-war industries. There was an ever-increasing need for housing in Napa, and schools were understaffed and in poor condition to meet these increasing needs.
She continued throughout this time working very closely with Dr. McPherson to build new schools and stress the new definitions of primary and secondary education as a continuous process throughout all grades not to be separated because of age differences. In addition, Dr. McPherson understood the need to instruct teachers throughout Napa in the need to update their resources to better meet the demands of the times. The vast majority of teachers of that time were women. Dr. McPherson felt new educational information could best be disseminated to the teachers by a woman of exceptional character and professionalism in teacher instruction. Therefore Irene Snow assumed this responsibility along with her many other duties. Subsequently, Snow was successful, as she so often was, because the female teachers took instruction from her openly, which helped build a closer relationship with their male superintendent.
Throughout her years of educational leadership, Irene Snow was very well known for the philosophy that teachers fitted for the profession should love children and have special desires and abilities for their promotional products. At the time of her retirement she was declared “the perfect product of her belief.” Her true success as a teacher of youth was attributed to her practice of maintaining close relationships between herself and her students which was the essence of her instruction. A very fitting memorial and the esteem of the community to this truly dedicated teacher and educator, the newest elementary school in Napa County was dedicated in her honor on Foster Road and was slated for occupancy with the first kindergarten through 6th grade classes in February 1958.
This local history traces the history of just one of the many highly educated and accomplished educators of their day; they live on still as models for current educators in the Napa Valley Unified School District.