This story originally appeared in the winter 2016 Harker Magazine.
The 2018-19 school year will mark the 125th anniversary of Harker’s founding, and we’re so excited to look back at our history. It seems appropriate to start at the beginning; enjoy this primer of Harker’s roots!
The union of two schools, the Palo Alto Military Academy and The Harker Day School, formed what is today The Harker School. Although these schools began independently, David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, inspired both.
In 1893 President Jordan, concerned for the university’s need for superior incoming students, encouraged Frank Cramer, a pioneer educator and civic leader, to begin Manzanita Hall, a college preparatory school for boys. The program was dedicated to the premise that the successful future citizen and student of higher education is one who has a broad foundation not only in his classroom pursuits, but also in nonacademic areas. The development of high moral character and leadership qualities was emphasized.
Catherine Harker, a Vassar graduate and a professor of Greek and Latin at Mills College, recognized the need for a girls’ preparatory school near Stanford and founded Miss Harker’s School in 1902, which also emphasized superior scholarship, character and leadership.
In 1919 Cramer’s original school, Manzanita Hall, became Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA), a school for boys of elementary age under the direction of Richard P. Kelly. In 1955 Miss Harker’s School was reorganized to become a coeducational day school and brochures indicate that the name of the school was changed to The Harker Day School during the reorganization. Donald L. Nichols assumed leadership of PAMA in 1950 and The Harker Day School in 1959, merged the two schools under the name Harker Academy and moved to the present location at 500 Saratoga Ave. in San Jose in 1972. Howard E. Nichols assumed leadership of the school in 1973, dropping the military program and expanding academics and other program offerings.
In 1992, the school name was changed to The Harker School to more clearly reflect the character and diversity of the school. Howard Nichols was named president and Diana Nichols was named head of school. To fill the growing need for exceptional non-religious high school education in the Bay Area, Howard and Diana Nichols planned and implemented the founding of the upper school and Harker expanded in 1998 to begin including grades 9-12. Fully enrolled since its inception, the upper school quickly earned a reputation for excellence. In 2002, Harker graduated the first class of seniors, and graduates continue matriculating to prestigious universities throughout the world. Christopher Nikoloff assumed leadership of the school in 2005 following Nichols’ retirement at the end of the 2004-05 school year.
Today The Harker School still retains the consistent core philosophy of the original schools, and has become a world-renowned academic institution that is eager to continue making a difference in the world.