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 1980-1991. Head of School Leah Rhys served from 1991-1998. Ann Teaff served from 1998 to 2014. Stephanie Balmer was named the new head of school and began her tenure in July 2014. Today, the Harpeth Hall campus comprises 44 acres and there are 90 teaching faculty and almost 690 students. Harpeth Hall and its predecessor schools share a history of excellence in educating young women through rigorous college-preparatory education and leadership development.