The women for whom The Harker School is named came from strong pioneer stock. Catherine and Sarah Harker, who founded and ran Miss Harker’s School for several decades, were the maternal grandchildren of Otelia Winchell Cullen Polk De Witt, a pioneer who joined the Oregon Trail in 1847. In 1909, De Witt was elected “first Mother Queen” of the Oregon Pioneer Association at 95 years of age. The ribbons she was awarded are still stored at the Harker archives.
De Witt died in 1911, and the obituary (probably written by her daughter, Sarah Ellen Harker, and published in a San Francisco newspaper) also sits in Harker’s archives.
According to the obituary, Otelia Winchel (sic) was born on Jan. 14, 1814, in Brookville, Ind. She married John Cullen in 1835 and produced a boy, John W. Cullen, the following year. John Sr. died shortly after. In 1842 she married Adam Guthrie Polk.
Otelia and Adam had two daughters, Caroline and Sarah Ellen. Both sisters eventually moved from Indiana to Portland, traveling along the famous Oregon Trail. The head of their wagon train was Samuel Markham, whose wife, Elizabeth, was Otelia’s cousin. According to Linda Markham Curry, a descendant of the Markham family, Elizabeth was the mother of noted Bay Area-based poet Edwin Markham.
Adam Polk died while crossing the Columbia River, leaving his widow and children to survive the harsh winter alone. They arrived at Oregon City, Ore., sometime in November or December 1847. Upon their arrival, they moved into a cabin on First and Morrison Streets. The family later moved to Portland, into a frame house built by Captain Nathaniel Crosby, the great-grandfather of singer and actor Bing Crosby.
Otelia married cargo ship officer Francis G. De Witt 1848. They had three children together: Marie B., Francis M. and Otelia V. Caroline and Sarah Ellen eventually arrived in Palo Alto, where they joined the staff at Miss Harker’s School. Sarah Ellen was the mother of Catherine and Sara Harker.
De Witt passed away on March 21, 1911.