History and Archives

Harpeth Hall’s history dates back to 1865 with the founding of Ward Seminary for Young Ladies. The school merged with Belmont College for Young Women in 1913 and formed the Ward-Belmont School, a high school and junior college for women. In the spring of 1951, Ward-Belmont closed, and local community leaders organized to ensure that a quality educational opportunity for girls continued. This group purchased the Estes Estate in Green Hills and renamed the school Harpeth Hall, based on the nearby Harpeth River Valley.

In the fall of 1951, the new school opened with 161 students in grades 9-12, most of whom transferred from Ward-Belmont. The first head of school, Susan Souby, was the former high school principal Ward-Belmont. Additionally, all but two of the founding faculty members had previously served at Ward-Belmont. By the next year, in December 1952, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Harpeth Hall. Several of the traditions established at Ward-Belmont were carried over to Harpeth Hall. The origin of Step Singing and the Lady of the Hall, Harpeth Hall’s highest honor, evolved from the traditional Mayday festival.

Idanelle “Sam” McMurry became the second head of school in 1963 and served until 1978. The Daugh W. Smith Middle School opened in the fall of 1968 to accommodate the new seventh and eighth grade classes. Polly Fessey was the first director of the Middle School. Ultimately fifth and sixth grades would be added to the Middle School. In 1973, McMurry introduced Winterim - one of Harpeth Hall’s signature programs. For three weeks each January Winterim allows students to explore in-depth areas of interest through special coursework, internships, academic trips, and independent study.

David Wood succeeded Idanelle McMurry and served as Harpeth Hall's first male Head of School from 1980 to 1991. Head of School Leah Rhys served from 1991 to 1998 with the charge to affirm our identity and mission as an all girls school and to build financial resources for the school. Ann Teaff served from 1998 to 2014 and transformed the Harpeth Hall campus through two major capital campaigns and a project to renovate and name the Hortense Bigelow Ingram Upper School. Also, during Ms. Teaff's tenure, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary as Harpeth Hall on the Hobbs Road campus during the 2000-01 school year. Stephanie Balmer was named the new Head of School in October 2013 and began her tenure in July 2014 with a focus on the social and emotional health of students, campus security, and sustainability. The school celebrated its 150th anniversary during the 2015-16 school year tracing our roots to the opening of Ward Seminary in 1865 following the end of The Civil War. Dr. Balmer passed away on February 17, 2018, and former Upper School Director, Jess Hill, took over as Interim Head of School on May 19, 2018. 

Today the Harpeth Hall campus comprises nearly 44 acres, and enrollment is the hightest in history with 698 students projected for 2018-19. The school has 87 full-time and 9 part-time teaching faculty and employs a total of 150 professionals. Harpeth Hall and its predecessor schools share a history of excellence in educating young women through rigorous college-preparatory education and leadership development.

150th Anniversary Video