Harpeth Hall celebrates the 2019 Ward-Belmont/Harpeth Hall Distinguished Alumna In Memoriam
On Tuesday, February 5, 2019, Nashville native and Ward-Belmont alumna, Class of 1936, Cornelia Clark Fort would have turned 100 years old. A trailblazing aviator, WWII veteran, and role model to women everywhere, Cornelia Fort was recognized posthumously by the City of Nashville and her alma mater, Ward-Belmont/Harpeth Hall School at a special assembly in Harpeth Hall's Frances Bond Davis Theatre on Monday, February 11.
Harpeth Hall recognized Fort as the "2019 Ward-Belmont/Harpeth Hall Distinguished Alumna In Memoriam," and Nashville Mayor David Briley released a proclamation read by Mr. Lawrence Hall, Director of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement, declaring Monday, February 11, 2019 "Cornelia Clark Fort Day" in the City of Nashville to honor her numerous contributions to her community and for her meritorious service to the United States of America. Cornelia Fort served with honor and bravery as a member of the Woman's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which became the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), and she was the first American woman to die while on active military duty.
Mr. Lawrence Hall
Head of School Jess Hill welcomed the special assembly which was attended by members of the Fort family, Harpeth Hall students, faculty, staff, and members of the Nashville Mayor's Office. Ms Hill provided background on Cornelia's life and shared the significance of recognizing Fort on this special day, "Cornelia Fort did not live to see the end of the war and never received the recognition she deserved. We are grateful to have the opportunity to honor her life and her legacy, 100 years after her birth on February 5, 1919," Hill said.
Each year seventh grade English classes at Harpeth Hall read the historical-fiction novel Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. This book is typically the first introduction our students have to Cornelia Fort '36. Last year, in Ms. CJ Jones' seventh grade English class, the students expressed a special interest in researching further the life of this notable Ward-Belmont alumna. Using resources from the Special Collections Division of the Nashville Public Library, which house Fort's personal documents, the final product of their combined efforts became an online exhibit on Harpeth Hall's Digital Humanities site and a physical exhibit displayed in the Middle School, which featured the primary sources analyzed in the English classes. Ms. Jones and these students were excited to be a part of the special assembly and present their experience learning more about Fort's life.
Ms. Jones introduced the students work, "The current eighth graders, who were in seventh grade when they completed their project, will share a bit of the story they discovered while researching this incredible woman we're here to recognize today."
Middle School English Teacher, Ms. CJ Jones
To further honor and recognize Cornelia Clark Fort '36 as the 2019 Ward-Belmont/Harpeth Hall Distinguished Alumna In Memoriam, Harpeth Hall School Archivist and Upper School Social Science Department Chair, Dr. Mary Ellen Pethel, wrote a feature article on Cornelia Fort, "Fly Girl, Celebrating Cornelia Fort's Life and Legacy" which will be featured in the school's magazine Hallways, Spring 2019. We are pleased to be able to share a sneak peek of that article with you today.
Following the student presentation, Dr. Barbara Bell, Director of Harpeth Hall's Center for STEM Education for Girls, took the stage to share her personal experience and knowledge of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Dr. Bell was one of the first female graduates of the United States Naval Academy. She was a Naval Officer, Naval Aviator, Naval Captain, and during her Naval career, she flew more than 1,600 hours in 35 different types of aircraft. Additionally, Bell received a Masters of Science in Astronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Doctor of Education from Vanderbilt University.
"Has anyone known they were right where they were supposed to be?" Bell asked in her opening remarks. "I know I am right where I need to be today, honoring Cornelia Fort," she said.
Bell shared her extensive and accomplished background in aviation. She said she believes it is this group of women, among whom Cornelia Fort was a member, who laid the groundwork and paved the way for her to be standing on the stage today. She spoke to the importance of telling their story and telling her own story to inspire the next generation of women who will follow.
"I would not be here if not for Cornelia Fort and the WASP," Bell said, connecting the dots and underscoring the importance of the contributions Cornelia Fort made for the advancement of women in the U.S. military and everywhere.
Bell invited Fields Livingston '25 to the stage dressed in a flight suit and helmet. Fields is the great great niece of Cornelia Fort '36 and a student in the sixth grade at Harpeth Hall.
Ms. Hill concluded the assembly by presenting the family of Cornelia Fort with a print of her portrait etching that will hang in the Harpeth Hall Distinguished Alumnae display.
It was a great day to celebrate the important impact of our alumnae and the tradition they have set for dreaming big and going far --- one that is carried on by our students, faculty, and staff today. We are so appreciative to all who participated and especially to the family of Cornelia Clark Fort '36.