Diversity Day Renamed for Early Native American Student
Emily Weir

This is the seventh winter that NMH has mounted a Diversity Day conference filled with workshops led by campus community members. From this year forward, the gathering will be known as Lydia Keys Day to honor one of the school’s first Native American students.

In the summer of 1880, Harriet Tuttle, principal at Northfield Seminary, was instructed by school founder D.L. Moody to find a dozen Native American girls who might succeed at the school, and to enroll them at his own expense. Tuttle found 16 girls, including Lydia Emma Keys, who graduated with Northfield’s first class in 1884. Keys (at top left in photo) was from the Oklahoma territory and a full member of the Cherokee Indian tribe. In an era when graduation rates at the school were well under 10 percent of those who matriculated, her graduation is particularly noteworthy. 

After NMH, Keys graduated from the Female Seminary at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, according to a 1937 interview. In 1897, she married the Rev. C.J. Taylor, a Baptist minister, with whom she had two daughters. Keys had a career as a teacher in her native Oklahoma, and remained devoted to Northfield.

Martha Neubert, dean of equity and social justice, explained why Diversity Day was renamed. “Our school has such a long history of access and inclusion that we are well-supplied with notable alumni whose lives — at NMH and afterward, in ordinary and extraordinary ways — embody the very core of our mission: acting with humanity and purpose,” she said. 

The first Lydia Keys Day will be held Thursday, Feb. 22. Instead of classes, students will spend the day taking and leading more than 100 workshops on themes including identity, power, oppression, social justice, and civil discourse. “The intention is to create space for the community to explore ‘big questions,’ and various concerns that we do not normally have the opportunity to explore in our busy schedules,” Neubert said. 

Neubert added that remembering and celebrating NMH’s alumni lets us “tie current student lives to the diverse legacy of this place.”

Note: Lydia Keys is at top left in this partial image of the Northfield Class of 1884. Photo courtesy NMH Archives