Sarah Ellen Polk Harker was the mother of Catherine and Sara D. Harker, the women who founded and ran Miss Harker’s School for Girls in Palo Alto.
Mrs. Harker was born in Indiana on Oct. 28, 1845. She was two years old when her family embarked on the Oregon Trail. While on the trail her father, Adam, died of pneumonia after being exposed to bad weather while crossing a raging river.
Adam was a cousin of President James K. Polk. He came from Kentucky with his three sons to La Porte, Ind., and served (it is believed) as foreman for her grandfather, Nathaniel Winchell. Sarah’s parents married in 1842 and had two children together, Sarah and her sister Caroline.
Years later, Sarah married James Bartlett Harker, a native of New Jersey. He died the same year Catherine Harker opened her school. Sarah and James had three daughters: Catherine, Sara and Caroline. Tragedy struck the family again on June 18, 1893, when Caroline, the youngest daughter, committed suicide by drowning during a state of depression at age 22.
Sara D. Harker eventually left Portland, Ore., where the family had settled, to work at Miss Harker’s School. In 1902, Sarah’s sister Mrs. Caroline Wellman joined her. Together, the Harker women put all their energy into Miss Harker’s School.
Sarah Ellen’s daughters never married, but their much-loved students became their legacy.
—Compiled by the Harker History Committee