Pearl Anderson was born on January 18, 1899 on Camano Island, Washington. She attended the University of Washington and the Bellingham Normal School, obtaining her teaching degree from the former in 1922. During World War I, she taught and served as a principal at several island schools.
She married Lemuel Wanamaker in 1927. They had three children, Robert (1932), James (1933), and Joanna (1934).
In 1923, Wanamaker was elected Island County Superintendent of Schools, making her the youngest in comparable roles throughout the US. In 1928, she was elected as the House representative of the 38th District. After a brief pause, she served again in the House in 1932, where she supported the building of the Deception Pass Bridge. In 1936, she was appointed to the Senate after losing an election attempt that same year. In 1937, the Yantis-Wanamaker measure was passed, which ensured that school districts receiving reduced funding from property taxes in less wealthy neighborhoods were allocated more state funds.
In 1940, she was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. In this role she pushed for the centralization and consolidation of school districts, reformed teaching certification requirements, promoted special education, and pushed for federal education aid. She was instrumental in the repeal of a law that prevented the collocation of a junior college and senior college in the same county, which made the creation of a community college in Tacoma possible.
In 1946 and 1950, Wanamaker was appointed by General MacArthur to a group that traveled to Japan to study the country's education system and make post-war recommendations for reorganization. She also served as the National Education Association president from 1946-1947.
Wanamaker became a target for conservatives due to several actions over her career, most notably her reinstatement of Margaret Jean Schuddakopf to her job with Tacoma Schools after Schuddakopf elected to not respond to questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding her alleged involvement with the Communist party. In 1956, she lost her reelection bid to a conservative challenger.
After her sixteen years as Superintendent, Wanamaker continued to serve on numerous educational advisory groups both locally and across the country. The dedication of the Pearl A. Wanamaker Library was held on December 7, 1966.
Wanamaker died in 1984.
Sources and more information:
Ardath I. Champlin, "Arthur L. Marsh and the Washington Education Association, 1921-40," The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Jul., 1969), pp. 127-134. Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40488621
Dale Coleman, The Open Door: A History of Tacoma Community College. Tacoma, WA: Tacoma Community College, 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.tacomacc.edu/about/why-tcc/history-tradition
Michael Hood, "Wanamaker, Pearl Anderson (1899-1984)," HistoryLink.org Essay 9171, Sept. 26, 2009. Retrieved from: https://historylink.org/File/9171
"Library Cornerstone Will Be Set Dec. 7," The Collegiate Challenge, Vol. 1, No. 5 (Dec. 1, 1966), p. 1.