Sara D. Harker arrived in Palo Alto in 1907, along with her mother and aunt, to help her sister Catherine run the school she had just opened. A trained musician who played violin and piano, Sara Harker’s first job was director of the music program. She expanded the program and her own interests to the Palo Alto community, becoming a champion of the Fortnightly Music Club, which exists to this day and regularly performs free concerts in Palo Alto.
Sara’s other main interests were business, humanitarian works and traveling. During World War I, she was in charge of the California state office for the Commission of Relief of Belgium. Later, she traveled to Australia and studied in Boston at the Prince School, affiliated with the graduate school of education at Harvard. After further studying business, she traveled to Europe in 1931 and upon her return became principal of the lower school at Miss Harker’s.
One newspaper article featured Sara as she was about to embark on a European tour with four girls from the school. “There will be motor trips out from Nice and Rome, an excursion to Capri and Pompeii, swimming and tea at the Lido, a lake trip to the castle of Chillon, attendance at plays in Interlaken, and Munich trips to the Isle of Marken and its famous cheese market, a day on the Rhine and an airplane journey from Heidelberg to Paris,” the story reads. The article is undated, but the trip took place when a “5 room modern bungalow” rented in Palo Alto for $60 a month.
In an undated brochure published after Catherine Harker’s death in 1938 showing Sara as headmistress, the first aim of the school is thus stated: “The first objective is to inspire every pupil with high ideals, not only of scholarship, but of character, and to awaken the desire to make the greatest possible use of life and talents.”
During the 50th celebration of the opening of the Harker School for Girls, an associate wrote of Sara: “Her leadership is one of enthusiasm, sincerity, and high ideals. Always she is interested in the individual, with her talents and potentials … She places strong emphasis upon high academic standards, but above all, she values the building of character.”
Sara Harker ran the school until her retirement in 1951, at the age of 84. Hospitalized after a series of strokes for nearly three years, she was 89 years old at the time of her death.
—Compiled by the Harker History Committee