Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Milton Hershey School

“It was Kitty’s idea,” Milton Hershey always said when he spoke of the Hershey Industrial School. “If we had helped a hundred children it would have all been worthwhile.”

Fifteen years younger than her husband, Catherine Hershey developed an undiagnosable illness circa 1901, and was increasingly sickly for years. Hershey’s father, Henry, had been highly intelligent, but not too realistic; his get-rich schemes never worked too well. Hershey did not cope well with the instability; he had attended seven different schools, yet never made it into the fifth grade,[5] so when Kitty was unable to bear children, the Hersheys decided to give needy kids the kind of upbringing he never had. Milton and Catherine Hershey established a home and a school for “poor, healthy white, male orphans between the ages of 8 through 18 years of age.”

On November 15, 1909, Hershey signed over the 486-acre (1.97 km2) farm where he had been born, complete with livestock, to start the school. In 1910, Nelson (age 6), and his brother Irvin (age 4) were the first to arrive. Their father, who had worked as a polisher in a Mount Joy foundry, had died after a long illness, and their mother couldn’t support six children by taking in laundry. Their brother William, 2, was too young to be admitted for two more years. Another pair of brothers, sons of an Evangelical church’s pastor, arrived a few days later. The first class consisted of 10 students, and by 1914, there were 40 boys enrolled in the school.

While Hershey consulted with experts on managing the school, he used three guiding principles to ensure the students had a good education, a sense of stability and security: every graduate should have a vocation, every student should learn love of God and man, and every student should benefit from wholesome responsibility. The vocational education program started with a woodworking shop, where the boys made their own beds and chests. Although Hershey was nonsectarian, claiming the “Silver Rule” as his religion, Sunday school was held regularly at the home. Starting in March 1929, the boys got the responsibility of doing daily chores in the dairy barns.

After Kitty’s death in 1915, Hershey gave his entire personal fortune - thousands of acres of land, and controlling interest in the company, worth US$60 million - to the school. He continued to be involved in the school’s operations until his 1945 death.

The organizational papers were modified in 1933, allowing the school to accept older students, and again in 1951 to change the name of the school from the “Hershey Industrial School” to the “Milton Hershey School.” In 1968, the school was racially integrated, although it wasn’t until 1970 that the organizational papers allowed that, and another modification 1976 allowed female students, who started arriving in 1977.

In 1989, the school stopped requiring students to milk cows twice daily, reflecting a changed focus from vocational to college preparatory education, but students were still required to perform chores.

Maybe you knew about his amazing school but I really never knew the story until someone explained it to me today.


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