A prominent prep school in Nashville, Tennessee has said it will no longer hold its annual celebration of George Washington because its “not consistent or relevant to the way that we teach history today.”
The prep school, Harpeth Hall, made the decision last week, The Tennessee Star reported. Jess Hill, who heads the school, wouldn’t answer the outlet’s specific questions about canceling the event, but did send a statement.
“After much thoughtful dialogue spanning several years, Harpeth Hall has decided to discontinue the annual George Washington Celebration,” Hill wrote.
Hill included three reasons why the school decided to end the celebration:
“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 the statement to the Star. “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.”
On Tuesday, Hill sent an email to school alumni, which was obtained by the Star, that explained the history of the celebration.
“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 celebration, according to the email “experienced many evolutions over the decades.”
“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,” the email said as an example.
The Star reported that Harpeth Hill is an expensive all-women prep school spanning middle school and high school, with famous alumni such as Reese Witherspoon and Amy Grant. The school costs upwards of $30,000 a year.
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