Officials at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville have decided to do away with their annual George Washington Celebration.
Head of School Jess Hill declined to answer The Tennessee Star’s specific questions about the matter in an email Tuesday. She instead sent a statement.
“After much thoughtful dialogue spanning several years, Harpeth Hall has decided to discontinue the annual George Washington Celebration,” Hill wrote, adding many people support the decision.
In her email, Hill said school officials are ending the celebration for the following reasons:
• “It is not consistent with or relevant to the way that we teach history today.”
• “It does not demonstrate the significant role that women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups play in our nation’s history.”
• “A growing number of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae are expressing their discomfort with this tradition.”
“For the past several years, the Leadership Team, faculty, and students have questioned in separate discussions the long-standing tradition of the George Washington Celebration at Harpeth Hall – a place where girls are at the center of our story. During this past school year, we held focus group discussions with our Alumnae Board and Head’s Young Alumnae Council to gather their thoughts. We also conferred with administrators and teachers charged with leading the program over many years,” Hill wrote.
“In consideration of their feedback and our mission, we have decided that the George Washington Celebration held on February 13, 2020 marks our final performance.”
Harpeth Hill is an expensive and elite all-women prep middle school and high school. According to its website, alumnae include actress Reese Witherspoon, singer Amy Grant, and entertainer Sarah Colley Cannon, also known as Minnie Pearl. The school’s website also said that its middle school tuition costs almost $28,000, while upper school tuition costs almost $29,000.
Hill sent an email to school alumni Tuesday, which The Star obtained. The email describes The George Washington Celebration as a social event that originated more than a century ago.
“In 1913, young women at Ward-Belmont lived and studied in a protected enclave where young men were not allowed. In an effort to provide a social activity during a winter weekend that year, Ward-Belmont students planned a party where they imagined the lives of our founding fathers, dressed in colonial costumes, and danced the minuet to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. This social occasion was not a part of the educational program and continued for decades, with a multi-year hiatus during World War II when all citizens were called upon to conserve resources and support the war effort,” the email said.
“When Ward-Belmont closed in 1951 and Harpeth Hall began on the Hobbs Road campus, many former Ward-Belmont teachers brought traditions with them to continue the all-girls experience in Souby Hall, our first classroom building. The George Washington Celebration resumed in 1955 and served as an opportunity for beloved and revered Miss Patty Chadwell to teach dance in her Physical Education class.”
The George Washington Celebration “experienced many evolutions over the decades,” according to the email.
“In 1982 [it] became a seventh grade activity, where girls were assigned to be soldiers, sailors, captains of the guard, or one of the guests at the celebration. Two outstanding students, first in the junior class and later in the eighth grade, were honored each year as George and Martha Washington.”
According to its Facebook page, Harpeth Hall is an independent college preparatory school for girls and young women “whose mission is to teach girls to think critically, to lead confidently, and to live honorably.”
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