Skip To Main Content

Menu Trigger Container

Bears Repeating from Jess Hill: Taking Girls Seriously

Under the blotter on my desk, I have a little collection of printed quotations. Words from Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary Oliver, and others that offer reassurance, inspiration, and motivation. I add new quotes every year — and from time to time I actually read them. 

One of the quotes I added about 10 years ago is from an alumna who said, “I remember that at Harpeth Hall we laughed a lot and learned a lot, but the main thing is that everyone took us seriously here.” I still remember the conversation I had with this alumna. She reflected that no matter what she said, what she believed, or what she pursued, her teachers and the school took her thoughts and ideas seriously. 

I don’t think that meant that every idea was thought to be a good one, but someone listened and took the time to value the process and the person. That feeling was novel enough for this graduate that she still remembered it 15 years later.

It was really novel in 1865 when our predecessor school Ward Seminary opened in Nashville. It was five months after the Civil War and decades before women had the right to vote, and, at that time, providing a girl an equal educational experience to what any boy would experience was a radical idea. Only a handful of institutions in the country existed to provide a comprehensive education to prepare women for college or the next steps in their future.

Centuries later, the idea of an all-girls education may be less bold but still as important.

Another quote that I often reflect on and talk about is one from a teacher who said: “At Harpeth Hall, girls matter.” Many visitors and newcomers to the world of girls’ schools find it interesting that we feel the need to separate ourselves from the universe of coed education. Our mission remains relevant and vital today as female students still face new challenges in maintaining respect and obtaining equal opportunities in a culture that continues to serve up a double standard and uneven playing field for women. And, in 2022, providing girls an excellent academic education is only the beginning.

If we have learned anything from the ongoing and increasing challenges of recent years, it is that this generation needs to begin to understand and see the world from many angles in order to navigate — and aspire to solve — the challenges they have inherited. New skills beyond the classroom are required. Habits of mind will need to be paired with courage and humility, resilience and patience.   

For girls, we find those skills are best acquired in a place where each girl feels valued and seen — where, as our alumnae say, a girl’s ideas are taken seriously. That makes our all-girls mission just as important today as it ever has been. 

We still have obstacles to overcome. A recent survey of college students conducted by Heterodox Academy found that more and more students are reluctant to freely share their opinions in the classroom. This is true for students who label themselves as liberal as well as those who label themselves as conservative. Contrary to popular opinion, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, it seems it is not “the professors who are chilling debate, it is the students themselves.” Students are worried about negative consequences on social media for speaking up in class. 

At Harpeth Hall, so many of our programs — leadership and confidence, civic engagement, global perspectives — aim to encourage girls to speak up, not stay quiet. Discussing ideas and deliberating about an issue in the classroom are essential in building the skills we believe our students need when they graduate. These discussions may not always be comfortable or easy, but they provide the stuff that forms strength of character later in life. We believe an all-girls environment gives our students an edge in feeling empowered to jump into the discussion.

While a student finds her voice, she also learns to listen. As she forms her thoughts, she cultivates respect for others’ views. We preserve this space where girls can grow and mature at their own pace while their questions multiply and ideas flourish. We preserve this place where girls are taken seriously.

As we turn the page to our 157th year of educating girls and young women, we are thankful for the courage of our founders in creating this place for girls and grateful for the long view we pursue. As we continue to evolve, it is important to know what remains steadfast. Harpeth Hall’s through lines are to remain thoughtful, to hold fast to honor and integrity, and to place value on kindness and finding connections with each other as we remain open to new discoveries. Most of all, we take girls seriously, and we believe in the indefatigable spirit of womankind.