NMH was founded on the principles of inclusivity and community — values that are as important today as they were in 1879.
Northfield Mount Hermon began as two institutions, both founded by 19th-century evangelist Dwight Lyman (D.L.) Moody: the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which opened its doors in 1879, and the Mount Hermon School for Boys, which opened two years later on the other side of the Connecticut River, the current site of Northfield Mount Hermon.
The two schools aimed to educate young people who had limited access to education due to limited financial resources. While the Bible was the primary classroom tool, it was supplemented by a challenging academic program similar to that of other private secondary schools of the era.
The schools also distinguished themselves by requiring all students to contribute to the running of the community by performing some form of manual labor: preparing meals, cleaning dormitories, or working on the NMH farm. That tradition continues to this day, with students working several hours a week as part of NMH’s “workjob” program.
From the earliest days, the schools enrolled students from all races and ethnicities; 16 Indigenous people were among the first 100 students at Northfield, and Mount Hermon's first graduates included a formerly enslaved student as well as students from China, Sweden, England, Ireland, Canada, and Japan. This commitment to diversity continues today: 25% of our domestic students are people of color, and 25% of students are from countries other than the U.S.
After Moody's death in 1899, his eldest son, William, continued his father's work at the schools, consolidating them 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. Working to find opportunities for students of color, the schools established a relationship with the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students in the 1940s, then with A Better Chance in the early 1960s. For 50 years, NMH served as home to a local Upward Bound program.
NMH’s school seal is a visual representation of the Northfield School for Girls and Mount Hermon School for Boys, combining the Mount Hermon motto “Discere et Vivere” — “Learn and Live” — with elements of the old Northfield seal. The image of the lamp of knowledge is thought to date back to the ancient Greek story of Diogenes searching with his lamp for an honest individual. It is commonly used on university seals and also is the symbol of the nursing profession, recalling Florence Nightingale, “the lady with the lamp.” In an academic context, the lamp signifies the light of knowledge burning brightly, which is what NMH faculty members hope to ignite in each student.
In 1971, Northfield and Mount Hermon became a single coeducational school on two campuses. In 2004, the NMH Board of Trustees voted to consolidate the school’s educational program on the Mount Hermon campus, creating a more cohesive learning environment, reducing operating costs, increasing the resources available to students, and allowing significant investment in facilities. The school consolidated to one campus in September of 2005.
While the Northfield campus was sold in 2009, it remains an important part of NMH’s heritage. Nearly 1,300 acres of forest land in Northfield and Warwick were purchased by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation, an arrangement NMH made to ensure the land would be available, permanently, for public use. Today, the majority of the Northfield buildings and some acreage belong to Thomas Aquinas College, which opened an East Coast campus there in 2019. Additional acreage and 10 other buildings are owned by the Moody Center, a nonprofit organization honoring the legacy of NMH’s founder.
In 2022, during reunion weekend, alumni and school leadership gathered as the members of the Northfield class of 1971 unveiled a plaque on the property in honor of the Northfield campus, its students, and the important role they play in the history of what is now Northfield Mount Hermon.
D.L. Moody’s Life
D.L. Moody was among the best-known Christian evangelists of the 19th century, traveling and preaching in the United States and abroad.
He was born in Northfield on Feb. 5, 1837, in a house that still stands. After the death of his father, when D.L. was 4 years old, his mother, Betsey, kept together her family of nine children, despite living in poverty. Moody was baptized in a local church and attended school in Northfield.
At age 17, he left home and moved to Boston to work in his uncle's shoe store. In 1855, he was "born again." As Moody put it: "When God waked me up ... I could not sit still, but I had to go out to preach."
Within the year, he moved to Chicago. In mid-19th-century America, hundreds of thousands of Americans, along with new immigrants, moved to cities to reap what they anticipated would be their share in the industrial revolution. Many were unable to cope with the temptations and disappointments of urban living. Young Moody felt compelled to preach. "I went out one Sunday and got hold of 18 ragged boys," he said. "That was about the happiest Sunday I ever experienced." He started teaching informal Bible classes in the most ignored and dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago.
Moody's listeners grew in number, and his commitment to evangelism became a full-time occupation. During the 1860s, he preached to civilians, soldiers, and prisoners; served as president of the Chicago YMCA; and made the first of his many long and famed evangelical trips.
In 1870, Moody met Ira David Sankey, a hymn singer, song leader, and composer. Moody needed a singer to fill the intervals between his sermons. Together, Moody and Sankey expanded and professionalized urban revivalism, campaigning for Christ in, among other places, England, Scotland, Jerusalem, Ireland, Italy, Egypt, France, Switzerland, Mexico, and across the United States.
Moody died in Northfield on Dec. 22, 1899. An estimated 3,000 people came to campus for the funeral. Moody is buried on a hill called Round Top in Northfield, the site of both his birth and death.