An extract from ‘A Patchwork of Memories’ by Gaynor Smith
I cannot imagine even in her early years of teaching that ‘Do’ could ever have had any trouble with discipline although I suppose it must be admitted that schoolgirls in those days were more easily awed than their counterparts today. Her imposing figure and startling blue eyes gave her a head start in the disciplinary stakes. She could be scathing if any girl showed a more than usual stupidity or had skimped her homework or grew inattentive in class; however there was nothing mean or petty about the sarcasm. We certainly writhed under her comments but we did not hate her for it.
‘Do’ taught English to generation after generation of schoolgirls and was insistent on good grammar. 50 years ago pupils knew about parsing and analysis, about the nominative and accusative case, about transitive and intransitive verbs. (you laid a table or you laid down the law but you did NOT ever say, you were laying on your bed) The difference between phrases and clauses, about the split infinitive, (if you wrote in your essay ‘to finally find the book’, your work would be returned, slashed with red ink and that if you dared to write that something was ‘different to,’ your essay was virtually doomed and you would be lucky to get a ‘C’)
Every week we parsed; it went something like this: ‘The girls climbed the mountain’. THE:- definite article governing the noun GIRLS. GIRLS:- noun, common, feminine, plural, nominative case subject of the verb CLIMBED. CLIMBED:- verb, finite, past tense, 3rd person plural, transitive – governing the noun GIRLS. THE:- definitive article governing the noun MOUNTAIN. MOUNTAIN:- noun, common, neuter gender, singular, accusative case, object of the verb CLIMBED.
Every week we analysed, every week we joined together simple sentences by the use of phrases and clauses, every week we learnt spellings and punctuation. ( my rather erratic and hazy concept of punctuation now bears no reference at all to never having been taught it but only to the length of time that stretches between me now and Do’s grammar lessons).
We wrote an essay each week and one ‘old girl’ remembers looking forward to having the essay returned with Do’s comments written in red ink in the margin. Some examples:- ‘Alas!’ and ‘Do you really believe this?’ or ‘My poor girl!’ but best of all ‘come and see me about this’.
‘Do’ also taught us literature and read poems to us. She had a sense of the dramatic (what teacher of English hasn’t!) and read well. I remember thrilling to the sound of the highwayman who came riding, riding, riding, up to the old inn door; being transfixed, just as the wedding guest himself was, by the skinny hand and glittering eye of the ancient mariner; and being bewitched as the pale knight was, by la belle dame, the beautiful and dangerous fairy’s child with her long hair and wild eyes. Most exciting of all however was taking part with her in a play. When we were studying ‘MACBETH’ for our School Certificate (today’s GCSE) examination, we read it aloud in class. ‘Do’ took the part of Macbeth and I was chosen as Lady Macbeth (a never to be forgotten honour) which started for me a love affair with Shakespeare which has never dimmed.
‘Do’ and ‘Jonah’ (Miss Davies and Miss Jones who taught History) were the staff in charge of Dormitory 8. Their bedrooms led off the dormitory so that the doors to their rooms were inside the dormitory itself, and although Do and Jonah were two of the strictest members of staff they were also the most respected, so that dormitory 8 was the most sought after dormitory in the school. When I first arrived at the school in 1930 aged 10, Gwyneth Clarke was then the much admired Head Girl and prefect in charge of Dormitory 8, so with her and ‘Do’, Dormitory 8 was a hallowed place indeed.
‘Do’ featured almost as much in our out-of-school activities as she did in the classroom. She always watched games matches and applauded our efforts. She climbed Cader with us and sat on the cairn with us as we gobbled down our sandwiches and sucked oranges. It was ‘Do’ who organised our trip to Paris when I was in the 5th form and showed us the delights of that city. When we went to the Paris Opera, who but ‘Do’ would have escorted a bunch of embarrassed and self-conscious school-girls in creased shantung dresses through the glittering Hall of Mirrors – who indeed?
In the 1978 Centenary Magazine there are letters from ‘Old Girls’ spanning all the years of DWS’s existence and many pay tribute to ‘Do’. She made an instant and lasting impression on all who met her or were taught by her and imparted a love of literature to many who passed through her hands. One tribute letter sent said, “ the school library was mine, from Agatha Christie to Virginia Woolf, from Mrs Gaskell to Dostoyevsky. ‘Do’ led me from author to author, advised, discussed and denigrated in equal measure. I’ll never forget her ‘shot in the back’ look when she asked her 6th formers whether they had read any D H Lawrence, and I said: “Yes, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”. The private lecture after the lesson ended lasted for some time…. ‘Do’ was always there – she was the pivot of my school life”
Perhaps as a teacher, ‘Do’ made a deeper impression on the girls who favoured the arts rather than those with a scientific bent, but as a personality for 42 years she made an impact on every girl who entered the school. She died in 1984 at the age of 90 and a service of thanksgiving for her life and work was held in the parish church of St Mary’s in Dolgellau, a church she attended throughout her years at DWS. As Miss Lickes said in her address “It is not easy to pay adequate tribute to one who meant so much to so many people, and left her mark on so many lives”.