Harpeth Hall School

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Harpeth Hall School
Harpeth Hall.jpg
3801 Hobbs Road
Nashville, Tennessee
United States
Type Private all-girls college preparatory
Motto Mentem spiritumque tollamus
Let us lift up the mind and spirit
Established 1951 (Ward Seminary 1865)
Head of school Stephanie Balmer
Grades 5-12
Enrollment 690
Color(s) Green and gray
Mascot Honeybear
Newspaper Logos
Yearbook Milestones
Tuition $25,380

Harpeth Hall School is a private college preparatory school for girls and young women in Nashville, Tennessee. The campus consists of a middle school and high school situated on a 40-acre site in Green Hills, a residential area southwest of the city. The school's beginning dates back to 1865 as a seminary for young ladies. After various mergers and name changes, the antecedent school closed in 1951, leading to the founding of the Harpeth Hall School. Its enrollment was 690 students for the school year 2015-16.[1] One hundred percent of Harpeth Hall graduates matriculate to 4-year colleges and universities.[2] Harpeth Hall's stated goals are to educate young women and foster these ideals: "Think Critically, Lead Confidently, and Live Honorably".

Notable Harpeth Hall alumnae include Reese Witherspoon, Willa Fartzgerald, Tracy Caulkins and Amy Grant.


Ward Seminary and Ward-Belmont 1865-1951[edit]

Harpeth Hall’s lineage dates back to 1865, with the founding of Nashville's "Ward Seminary for Young Ladies" by a Presbyterian minister, Dr. William E. Ward, and his wife, Eliza Hudson Ward. This school eventually merged with "Belmont College for Young Women" in 1913 to form Ward-Belmont School. The school had three divisions: college preparatory, music conservatory, and junior college. The latter was the first in the southern U.S. to receive full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (1935).[3]

In 1951, Ward-Belmont effectively closed following the sale of the school's campus to the Tennessee Baptist Convention. By the fall of 1951, Ward-Belmont had transitioned into a coeducational four-year school named Belmont College. The new board of trustees chose not to reopen the college preparatory division or the music conservatory.[4] In its final academic year, the Ward-Belmont student population included 550 boarding students and about 350 day students.[2]

Notable Ward-Belmont alumnae are Mary Martin,[5] Claire Boothe Luce,[6] Grace Moore,[7] Minnie Pearl (Sarah Cannon),[8] Phila Hach,[9] and Mildred Stahlman.[10]

Harpeth Hall[edit]

With the pending demise of Ward-Belmont's high school, a group of concerned citizens organized to ensure that a college preparatory school for girls would continue in Nashville. This group purchased a 26-acre tract of land known as the P.M. Estes estate in southwest Nashville at the corner of Estes Road and Hobbs Road. One of the building committee members, Mary Elizabeth Cayce, suggested the name of the new school be "Harpeth Hall", because of the proximity to the Harpeth River and that the words sounded "euphonius"[4]

In the fall of 1951, the Ward-Belmont college preparatory division reopened on a new campus and with a new name—the Harpeth Hall School. Harpeth Hall began the new school term with 161 students in grades 9 through 12, almost all of whom had transferred from Ward-Belmont.[11] A Nashville historical marker at the 3801 Hobbs Road site commemorates the event.[12] The first head of school, Mrs. Susan S. Souby had previously headed the high school department at Ward-Belmont. The first administrators and all but two members of the faculty were former members of the Ward-Belmont staff.[13] The existing house on the newly acquired property served as Harpeth Hall’s first school building, later named Souby Hall. Within the next year, the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accredited Harpeth Hall.[14] The school rapidly gained membership in the National Association of Independent Schools, the Southern Association of Independent Schools, and the Mid-South Association of Independent Schools.

During the School’s first decade, the facilities were expanded to include additional classroom space, an auditorium, gymnasium and cafeteria. In 1968, under the leadership of school head Idanelle McMurry, the Daugh W. Smith Middle School opened.

In 1998, a strategic plan was developed to address future faculty, program and facility needs. In 2000, a five-year, $42 million capital campaign entitled the "Campaign for Harpeth Hall" was launched to address these needs. By 2005, significant improvements to facilities were completed including a new library, a track and soccer complex, a visual arts center, and a middle school. In addition, the following facilities were renovated: the Jack C. Massey Center for Mathematics and Science, George N. Bullard Gymnasium, Frances Bond Davis Theatre, Marnie Sheridan Gallery, and Souby Hall. In 2007, the Hortense Bigelow Ingram Upper School completed major renovations on multiple buildings. A new Athletic and Wellness Center was completed in 2014.

Students and Faculty[edit]

As of 2016, Harpeth Hall enrolled 690 students. Of these, 124 were new students for the school year and came from 38 different schools: 15 public; 21 private; 2 homeschooled. Ethnic and racial minority students comprise 14 percent of the student body. For the school year 2016-17, Harpeth Hall has 100 faculty members, 14 of them part-time. Eighty percent of the faculty is female. The average class size is 14 and the student-to-faculty ratio is 7:1.[15]

Campus facilities[edit]

Harpeth Hall School sits in a residential neighborhood. The nucleus of the campus is Souby Hall, which is the administration building and is the original structure present when the land was purchased. Souby Hall has been extensively remodeled, but retains its original classic facade. As of 2016, there are 11 additional buildings including the upper school complex, a middle school, a library, a gymnasium, a theater, a gallery, a mathematics and science center, a visual arts center, a center for arts and athletics, a track and soccer complex, and an athletic and wellness center. The school has a field house, an eight lane track and two softball fields. In 2007, the school installed AstroTurf, a synthetic playing surface which is used for soccer and lacrosse, a first for a girls school in Tennessee.[4]

In 2000, Harpeth Hall introduced a "laptop initiative" into the curriculum, creating a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio. Each student is given a laptop computer which is provided on a lease and maintained by the school's technology department.[4] A campus network links students and teachers for projects, homework and assignments.[16] In 2016, the school added technical and engineering lab called the "Design Den."

Harpeth Hall has developed a collaborative partnership with Montgomery Bell Academy, a school for boys located nearby. Both schools have a strong tradition of single gender education, but have agreed to participate in joint drama and music programs, community service projects, sharing of athletic field space, and transportation to athletic competitions.[17]


Harpeth Hall's college preparatory curriculum offers 27 Advanced Placement and Honors courses.

Students at Harpeth Hall must complete four years of English, and at least three years of mathematics, science, foreign language, and history, in addition to two electives. Students must also take physical education or dance every year, although an exemption program is in place for extracurricular athletes and dancers. One full credit in the fine arts is also required for graduation, which may be filled by taking studio art, photography, drama, chorus, rock band, or AP Art History.

In 2009, Harpeth Hall became one of the founding members of the Online School for Girls, a program that allows students to take advanced placement classes not offered by their own school.[18] Harpeth Hall students participated in the inaugural year of the Online School, taking classes in Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, Computer Programming and Genetics.

In 2011, the school opened a "Center for STEM Education for Girls". The letters stand for "Science, Technology, Engineering and Math", subjects that have stereotypically belonged to boys. The purpose of this program is to increase the number of young women pursuing college degrees and careers in the STEM fields. The program is funded through an Edward E. Ford Foundation Leadership Grant and other donors.[19]

Harpeth Hall also maintains a tradition of service and has received the National Service-Learning School award recognizing its progress in this field.[20] In 2011 the school created a strategic partnership with a rural village in Western Kenya's Lwala Province to support girls' education there and to provide service opportunities for Harpeth Hall students. An example is providing uniforms for 6th grade African girls.[21]


Instituted in 1972, "Winterim" is a Harpeth Hall program that takes place annually in the first three weeks of January. During this time, students in the upper school set aside their regular studies and take on a curriculum of non-traditional offerings; for example, a student may work in an NHL hockey team's community relations office.[22] The student must put together a resume, turn in a job application, and have an interview. "It's just like the real working world", said Winterim director Mary Lou Primm.[22] Freshmen and sophomores are required to stay on campus, where they take specialized courses such as money management or songwriting, taught by faculty or guest teachers. Upperclassmen have, for example, internships at newspapers, business entities, television stations or in doctors' offices. Actress Reese Witherspoon spent her junior year Winterim working as a film editor on a feature film in which she played the starring role.[4] Primm stated, "Winterim is a credit program...it allows students to have fun with new interests in an exploratory way".[22] Students also have the option of going on school sponsored academic travel or exchange. Winterim study groups have been to Europe, Asia, South America and other continents.

College admissions[edit]

All of Harpeth Hall's graduating seniors enroll in college.[2] Each year a matriculation list is published that lists all the colleges that seniors will attend; for example, students in the class of 2013 attended 59 different colleges in 22 states and the District of Columbia and received offers of admission to 141 U.S. colleges.[23]

The college counseling program at the school provides individual assistance to students and parents. "College Nights" are held at grades 9-11 for students and parents preparing to apply. Juniors and seniors participate in additional college workshops during the school year. Varied seminars are held for seniors in the second semester to assist in the transition to college.


Literary endeavors include: Logos, the school newspaper; Hallmarks, the literary magazine. The theater department produces four performances a year. The Harpeth Hall Dance Company hosts two concerts a year. The Youth in Government club sponsors student involvement in Model United Nations. The Real World Committee holds monthly guest speaker events and assemblies designed to promote diversity. Harpeth Hall's Science Olympiad team competes at the state and local level in both Middle School and High School divisions. Other clubs include Mock Trial, the Cooking Club, the Justice League, Leaders OnLine (LOL), and the Chess Club.


More than 52 percent of upper school and 90 percent of middle school students compete on an athletic team. Harpeth Hall fields 11 interscholastic sports in the upper school and 10 in the middle school.

Harpeth Hall has achieved::

  • 53 State Championships in eight sports (as of 2016)[24]
  • 85 State Champion athletes in individual sports
  • 37 total upper and middle school teams
  • 20 All-American Athletes
  • 6 Coach-of-the-Year recipients
  • 3 Olympic Athletes[25]
  • 5 Robert Inman Awards for Girls All-Sports Harpeth Valley Athletic Conference[23]


Several of the traditions established at Ward-Belmont were carried over to Harpeth Hall.

The Lady of the Hall is a senior elected by the student body as the lady most representative of the ideals of the school. Each year, a new Lady of the Hall and court is elected. The honoree's name is engraved on a plaque in the Upper School. Each class also elects a representative to the court. The Lady of the Hall and her court are honored each year at Step Singing. Amy Grant was "Lady of the Hall" as a student in the 1970s.[4]

Step Singing is a long-established year-end event that began at Ward-Belmont in the early 1900s. Seniors lined the steps of the academic building to sing traditional songs a capella. Both the senior and junior classes participate in Step Singing and will sing their class songs in front of the Ann Scott Carell Library. The ceremony begins with the presentation of the Lady of the Hall and class representatives, who process down Souby Lawn in long white dresses with a single magnolia flower. The Lady of the Hall gives a speech, and later the junior class is officially recognized as the new senior class and joins in reciting the leadership pledge to the school. Step Singing is typically held the Sunday night before graduation. Juniors and seniors wear short white dresses.

George Washington’s Birthday Celebration has been observed at Harpeth Hall and its antecent school since 1922. It is a theatrical production featuring dance, song, and short monologues. Originally performed by older students, it was moved to the freshmen class in 1954 and then to the middle school in 1982. Today, the production is performed by the 7th-grade class as its American history studies curriculum coincides with the pageant. Every member of the class participates as a sailor, soldier or minuet dancer— lady or gentlemen. The seventh-graders choose two members of the eighth-grade class to play the roles of George and Martha Washington.

Four Clubs: (Angkor, Ariston, Eccowasin and Triad) have existed since the days of Ward-Belmont. During that time, the clubs were social clubs for the day and boarding students, similar to sororities. In the early years of Harpeth Hall the clubs competed against one another in athletic competitions. Today’s clubs serve as spirit and community service clubs. In the Middle School, clubs are instrumental in Field Day. In the Upper School, they compete in a song competition at Awards Day each year wearing scarves and sweaters emblazoned with the club colors and insignia. Each club performs a routine choreographed by the club president and co-president.

The Katie Wray Valedictory Award is a prestigious award bestowed upon a senior at graduation. The award is named for Ellen Kathleen Wray who died of cancer in 1955 during her last semester in high school and is presented to the senior with the highest academic average. Recipients have their names engraved on a plaque in the Upper School.

Harpeth Hall timeline[edit]

The following table is adapted and condensed from All-Girls Education from Ward Seminary to Harpeth Hall, 1865 to 2016[4]

Year Event
1951 Ward-Belmont closes; Harpeth Hall founded
1951 Susan Souby is first head of school
1953 Bullard Gymnasium opens
1954 Original Wallace Educational Building opens
1964 Idanelle "Sam" McMurry becomes head of school
1966 Allison Library opens
1968 Middle School opens
1973 School uniforms adopted; Winterim program begins
1976 New theater, gallery and gymnasium completed
1980 David E. Wood becomes head of school
1985 Center for Mathematics and Science opened
1991 Leah Rhys becomes head of school
1991 Kirkman house becomes residence for school head
1997 Campus-wide internet network established
1998 Ann Teaff appointed head
2001 New library replaces existing library
2002 Laptop computers for every student
2003 Visual arts center opens; track and soccer complex opens
2004 Upper school renovated, renamed
2009 Harpeth Hall founder of Online School for Girls
2015 Stephanie Balmer becomes head of school



  1. ^ "Admission FAQs". harpethhall.org. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Bennicker, Margaret D. (January 1, 2010). "Harpeth Hall School and Ward-Belmont". tennesseeencyclopedia.net. Retrieved 30 July 2016. 
  3. ^ "Ward's Seminary for Young Ladies, between 1865 and 1884". nashville.contentdm.ocic.org. Nashville Public Library Digital Collections. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Pethel, Mary Ellen. All-Girls Education from Ward Seminary to Harpeth Hall, 1865 - 2015. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press. ISBN 9781626197626. 
  5. ^ "Mary Martin, 76, First Lady of Musicals, Dies". nytimes.com. New York Times Company. November 5, 1990. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "History and Archives 1922-1950". harpethhall.org. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "Grace Moore-American singer". britanica.com. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  8. ^ Holden, Stephen (March 5, 1996). "Minnie Pearl, 'Grand Ole Opry' Star for 50 Years, Dies at 83". nytimes.com. New York Times Company. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  9. ^ Justice, Jennifer (December 28, 2008). "Nashville-area B&B owner, 82, 'intoxicated with life'". knoxnews.com. Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  10. ^ "Mildred Stahlman". medschool.vanderbilt.edu. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  11. ^ "Harpeth Hall Dedicated to Training Women in Tradition of Ward-Belmont". The Nashville Tennessean: 2. December 10, 1951. 
  12. ^ "Historical Markers-Nashville Sites". nashville.gov. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. Retrieved 3 August 2016. 
  13. ^ "Dedication, Open House Set at Harpeth Hall Sunday". The Nashville Tennessean: 54. December 7, 1951. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  14. ^ "Harpeth Hall College Accredited by SACSS". The Nashville Tennessean: 51. December 4, 1952. 
  15. ^ "Academics-Upper School". harpethhall.org. Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 
  16. ^ "Admission-Affording-2015-2016 Tuition and Fee Summary". harpethhall.org. Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 
  17. ^ "HH and MBA Collaboration". harpethhall.org. Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 31 July 2016. 
  18. ^ "Online School for Girls". onlineschoolforgirls.org. Online School for Girls. Retrieved 4 August 2016. 
  19. ^ "Center for STEM Education for Girls". stemefg.org. Center for STEM Education for Girls. Retrieved 4 August 2016. 
  20. ^ "National Service—Learning Leader School Award Winners". capitol words.org/date/2000/06/15. Sunlight Foundation. June 15, 2000. Retrieved 4 August 2016. 
  21. ^ "Meet our Lwala Sisters". harperthhall.org. The Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 20 August 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c Abkowitz, Alyssa (February 1, 1999). "Pupils Get Dose of Exploratory Learning". The Tennessean. Gannett: 4B. 
  23. ^ a b "Head's Highlights" (PDF). harpethhall.org. Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 
  24. ^ "Academic Accolades". harpethhall.org. Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 
  25. ^ "Athletic Hall of Fame". harpeth.org. Harpeth Hall School. Retrieved 9 August 2016. 
  26. ^ "Southern Association of Independent Schools". sais.org. SAIS. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  27. ^ "Southern Association for College Admission Counseling". nacacnet.org. National Association for College Admission Counseling. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  28. ^ "The Southern Association for College Admission Counseling". sacac.org. The Southern Association for College Admission Counseling. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 

External links[edit]