The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, presented the 2008 Shakespeare Steward Award to Trinity graduate Dr. Peggy Hoffman O’Brien ’69. O’Brien recently completed her term as chair of the Trinity Board of Trustees (2002 – 2008) and served as president of the Trinity Alumnae Association (1998 – 2001). O’Brien is the founder of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute and initiated the groundbreaking education series, Shakespeare Set Free. She is currently director of communications for District of Columbia Public Schools.
The Shakespeare Steward Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms. O’Brien’s award was presented at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute on July 18, 2008.
As head of education for the Folger in the 1980s, O’Brien developed the library’s education department and its performance-based philosophy. The philosophy is grounded in the belief that the best way to learn Shakespeare is by performing Shakespeare. Another basic tenet of the philosophy is the belief that students of every grade level and background can learn Shakespeare.
O’Brien established the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, a four-week residential program on Shakespeare education that connects educators with scholars, theater professionals, and master teachers, in 1984. She is also the editor of the Shakespeare Set Free series, books that have dramatically influenced the way Shakespeare is taught in American classroom. The three-volume series is designed to help teachers make Shakespeare relevant to their students. The books feature techniques for teaching Shakespeare’s plays through performance along with daily curriculum plans for immersing students in Shakespeare’s language. O’Brien continues to be an active contributor to Shakespeare scholarship and education: in 2007, she spoke at the Folger Institute conference “Shakespeare in American Education 1607-1934.”
O’Brien’s career reflects a lifetime devoted to introducing innovation into the classroom. After graduating from Trinity, she started as a librarian and teacher of reading, writing, and English at public schools in the District of Columbia. After leaving the Folger, she served as vice president of education for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), where she was involved with setting standards for all educational programming and leading public television’s efforts to develop digital content.
At CPB, O’Brien was instrumental in developing Mobil Masterpiece Theatre’s American Collection, nine films based on American literary classics and an extensive website created by middle school and high school teachers across the United States. She also helped develop the Annenberg-CPB Channel and the early reading series, Between the Lions.
O’Brien served as an executive for an internet education company and as executive director of Cable in the Classroom, the American cable industry’s education foundation, and then returned to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
O’Brien earned her master’s degree from Catholic University and her doctorate from American University. She received an honorary doctor of letters from Trinity in 1994. She also received an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University.
According to the web site, The Shakespeare Post, O’Brien says that even with her executive responsibilities, she’s never far from the classroom. “The opportunity to do this work is fabulous,” said O’Brien, “I’m an inner city high school English teacher, and that won’t ever change. When I first got into a classroom, I thought, ‘This is where I absolutely belong, I’ve been waiting to get here my whole life.’”