History of NMH

From NMH Archivist Peter Weis '78, P '13:

Northfield Mount Hermon was different from other private schools from the beginning, and we carry on our distinctions and traditions with pride. Founded by celebrated 19th-century evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody as two institutions (Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879 and Mount Hermon School for Boys in 1881), the schools aimed to educate young people who had limited access to education because they were poor. Moody hoped to create generations of committed Christians who would continue his evangelical efforts.

While the Bible was the primary tool for instruction in the early days, the institutions were never dogmatic. Religious instruction was accompanied by a challenging academic program similar to that of other private secondary schools of the era.

Another factor that distinguished the schools (and continues to do so today) was the manual labor required of all students. At Northfield, girls worked 10 hours per week, helping with meals or cleaning dormitories. At Mount Hermon, boys performed janitorial, laundry, kitchen, and farm work. The work requirement has shrunk over the years (it is now four hours per week); while students still help in the dining hall and on NMH's farm, they also work in the library and in computer labs or give tours of campus.

Moody's commitment to providing education to those who had been systematically denied it produced remarkable diversity among students. The schools matriculated students from all races and ethnicities: 16 Native Americans were among the first 100 students at Northfield, and Mount Hermon's first graduates included a former slave as well as students from China, Sweden, England, Ireland, Canada, and Japan. NMH maintains a commitment to diversity: Today, students of color make up 18 percent of our student body and 25 percent are from other countries.

After Moody's death in 1899, his eldest son, William, continued his father's work at the schools. The younger Moody pushed for consolidating the two schools into a single corporation called the Northfield Schools. Throughout the 20th century, a new Christian view was taking hold, stressing social justice and good works in place of personal salvation. From the 1940s on, the schools worked to overcome educational inequalities, first establishing a relationship with the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students. In 1962, A Better Chance, now a national program, was born as Northfield and Mount Hermon leaders worked to find opportunities for students of color. A 40-year relationship with Upward Bound also serves as testament to this commitment to opportunity education.

In 1971, Northfield and Mount Hermon became a single coeducational school. The school consolidated to the Mount Hermon campus in September 2005, and the Northfield campus was sold in 2009.

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