By Enid Davis
Sara D. Harker will forever be known as the younger sister of Catherine, who founded a private girls’ school in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1902. Catherine was, no doubt, the intellectual of the three sisters born to Sarah E. and James Harker of Portland, Ore. She graduated from Vassar College in 1889 and taught Latin at Mills College before opening her school.
Sara arrived in Palo Alto in 1907, along with her mother and aunt, to help Catherine. Since she was a trained musician (she played the violin and piano), her first job was director of the music program. Sara expanded this music program and her own interests to the Palo Alto community, becoming a champion of the Fortnightly Music Club, which brought great artists to the community.
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 in 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.
In one newspaper account, Sara is about to embark for a European tour with four girls from the school. The item includes a charming detail of the trip: “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 article is undated, but this 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.”
According to her pupils and colleagues, she succeeded in this endeavor. 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 might always be known as Catherine’s younger sister, but she stands just as tall in the history of our school. Upon Catherine’s death in 1938, Sara took on the responsibility of running the school until her retirement at the age of 84 in 1951.
Miss Harker died in a Mountain View rest home. Hospitalized after a series of strokes for nearly three years, she was 89 years old when she died.
Gloria Brown, a 1945 Harker high school graduate, has called Sara Harker “the most influential person in my life.” She was a dedicated educator who filled her students’ heads with the love of music, learning and good works. Not bad for a little sister!
Sources: “Miss Harker’s School.” Brochure. No date, but after 1938; Newspaper item, n.d.; “Palo Alto Times,” 4/24/56; “Palo Alto Times,” 1951; “San Jose Mercury News,” 12/31/76.