This article first appeared in the Harker Magazine Commemorative Anniversary Issue, celebrating 125 years, published July 2018.
Near the turn of the 20th century, three individuals had the foresight and fortitude to begin and lead two schools dedicated to the academic and moral development of young people. They founded Manzanita Hall and Miss Harker’s School, the eventual union of which became The Harker School.
Frank Cramer, a pioneer educator and civic leader with a lifelong interest in the sciences, was one of the earliest residents of Palo Alto. He graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., in 1886, and taught in Wisconsin for several years before moving to California to continue his education at Stanford University, from which he earned a master’s degree in zoology in 1893.
While Cramer was at Stanford, he was encouraged to start a college preparatory school for boys by Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, who was concerned about the fledgling university’s need for superior incoming students. Cramer founded Manzanita Hall – briefly called the Palo Alto Preparatory School for Boys – in 1893 as a day and boarding school for boys.
As its owner and principal, Cramer placed recruiting advertisements in newspapers across the country, promising – upon successful completion of the school’s rigorous curriculum – entrance to Stanford without examination, as students at Manzanita Hall were thoroughly prepared for university work. By the fall of 1894, the school had enrolled 40 boys.
The Harker Sisters
Catherine Harker, a native of Portland, Ore., and a graduate of Vassar College, recognized the need for a preparatory school for girls near Stanford University, as did David Starr Jordan. In 1902, she founded Miss Harker’s School for Girls, which emphasized exceptional scholarship, character and leadership. Its motto of “Non ministrari, sed ministrare,” meaning “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister,” reflected a commitment to serving the common good that continues at The Harker School today.
In addition to her administrative duties, Harker taught Latin and mathematics, drawing on her previous teaching posts at Curtner Seminary and Mills College. Sara Harker, an accomplished pianist and violinist with interests in business, travel and humanitarian work, arrived in Palo Alto in 1907 to become a silent business partner at her older sister’s school. She also was director of its music program. In 1931, she became principal of Harker’s lower school. After Catherine’s untimely death of a heart attack on school grounds in 1938, Sara became headmistress of Miss Harker’s School, continuing in that post until her retirement at the age of 84 in 1952.
Founder of Manzanita Hall
“Santa Clara Valley is literally the land of flowers, fruit and sunshine. Baseball, football and tennis the year round. Educational trips to the wonders of California. Only manly boys with highest recommendations taken.” – From a 1901 advertisement placed by Cramer.
Head of Manzanita Hall
“Manzanita Hall is in the Santa Clara Valley where there is every incentive to work. … [The school] prepares for Eastern Universities as well as Stanford. A growing school for growing boys.” – From a 1906 advertisement Dixon placed in “The Sunset”.
COL. RICHARD P. KELLY
Superintendent of Palo Alto Military Academy
“We enroll boys of five or six years to fourteen or fifteen – grammar grades only – no high school. You can easily understand what this means if your boy is young. He will find here the friendliness and sympathy of a good home, combined with a discipline not surpassed in any school. He will find a larger variety of interests suitable to boys of his age than he ever had before.” In a parent letter dated Sept. 1, 1925.
THE HEADS OF HARKER
Founder of Miss Harker’s School
“A meticulous scholar whose daily lessons were carefully organized … and who reassured her students with a contagiously delightful sense of humor.” – From “The Echo,” Miss Harker’s School yearbook.
Head of Miss Harker’s School
“Her leadership is one of enthusiasm, sincerity, and high ideals. … She places strong emphasis upon high academic standards, but above all, she values the building of character.” – At the 50th anniversary celebration of Miss Harker’s School.
Administrative Head of Miss Harker’s School
Principal of Harker Day School
“Through the years many teachers here helped to create the spirit of the school. The staff and faculty always work toward the ideal of true scholarship and moral integrity.” – From the October 1971 Harker Barker, the Harker Day School newspaper.
MAJ. DONALD NICHOLS
Superintendent of Palo Alto Military Academy/Harker Day School/Harker Academy
“Where else could you find a combination mascot-watchdog for 112 boys?” – Nichols, about his dogs Ajax, Babo, Hokie, Klute and Dutch, who were affectionately cared for by PAMA cadets throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
President of Harker Academy/The Harker School
“Our vision has always been to build the best school in the world. I don’t know if anyone can claim that distinction, but we certainly know we are one of the best, and we are only going to get better.” – At the dedication of Nichols Hall, 2009.
Head of The Harker School
“In only a few years, Diana has taken this new high school to national prominence in college admission. It’s a truly remarkable achievement and she’s an outstanding leader.” – Sandy Padgett, director of college counseling, at Diana’s retirement in 2005.
Head of The Harker School
“We’re tremendously proud of our century-old tradition of excellence in education, and the international recognition our students, faculty and programs have earned. We believe the best way to prepare our students is to provide the best academic and extracurricular programs possible.” – At the 2016 Night on the Town Gala.
Head of The Harker School
“While reflecting on our past, we are also excited about what the future holds for our students. We look forward to proudly joining together as a community with a clear vision of each of our important roles in ensuring a world-class education for our students.
Marla Holt is a freelance writer based in Minnesota.