Since 1893 Harker has celebrated intellectual curiosity and character. We are looking forward to celebrating our 125th anniversary in 2018-19.

History of The Harker School

The union of two schools, the Palo Alto Military Academy and The Harker Day School, formed what is today The Harker School. Although these schools began independently, David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, inspired both.

In 1893 President Jordan, concerned for the University's need for superior incoming students, encouraged Frank Cramer, a pioneer educator and civic leader, to begin Manzanita Hall, a college preparatory school for boys. The program was dedicated to the premise that the successful future citizen and student of higher education is one who has a broad foundation not only in his classroom pursuits, but also in nonacademic areas. The development of high moral character and leadership qualities was emphasized.

Catherine Harker, a Vassar graduate and a professor of Greek and Latin at Mills College, recognized the need for a girls' preparatory school near Stanford and founded Miss Harker's School in 1902, which also emphasized superior scholarship, character and leadership.

In 1919 Cramer's original school, Manzanita Hall, became Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA), a school for boys of elementary age under the direction of Richard P. Kelly. In 1955 Miss Harker's School was reorganized to become a coeducational day school and brochures indicate that the name of the school was changed to The Harker Day School during the reorganization. Donald L. Nichols assumed leadership of PAMA in 1950 and The Harker Day School in 1959, merged the two schools under the name Harker Academy and moved to the present location at 500 Saratoga Ave. in San Jose in 1972. Howard E. Nichols assumed leadership of the school in 1973, dropping the military program and expanding academics and other program offerings.

In 1992, the school name was changed to The Harker School to more clearly reflect the character and diversity of the school. Howard Nichols was named president and Diana Nichols was named head of school. To fill the growing need for exceptional non-religious high school education in the Bay Area, Howard and Diana Nichols planned and implemented the founding of the upper school and Harker expanded in 1998 to include grades 9-12. Fully enrolled since its inception, the upper school quickly earned a reputation for excellence. In 2002, Harker graduated the first class of seniors, and graduates continue matriculating to prestigious universities throughout the world. Christopher Nikoloff assumed leadership of the school in 2005 following Nichols' retirement at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

In September of 2013 Harker launched its new preschool division on newly acquired property on Union Avenue in San Jose. The school now has four divisions, with a campus for each: the preschool campus on Union Avenue; the lower school campus on Bucknall Avenue; the middle school campus on Blackford Avenue; and the upper school campus on Saratoga Avenue.

The Harker School is a nonprofit organization, and today still retains the consistent core philosophy of the original schools.

Campus History

  • 1893

    Manzanita Hall

    Manzanita Hall
    In 1893, Frank Cramer founded Manzanita Hall, an all-male boarding and day preparatory school, established to prepare boys to enter Stanford University. Show more...
  • 1903

    Miss Harker's School

    Miss Harker's School
    Miss Harker's School was originally housed in Palo Alto at the corners of Kingsley and Bryant in Castilleja Hall, a building that had been vacated and was remodeled for the use as a school. Show more...
  • 1919

    Palo Alto Military Academy

    Palo Alto Military Academy
    In June 1919 Col. Richard P. Kelly purchased Manzanita Hall and changed the school name to the Palo Alto Military Academy. Building on Manzanita Hall's fine academic reputation, Colonel Kelly created Palo Alto Military Academy as a non-sectarian, though admittedly Christian, boarding and day school. Show more...
  • 1959

    Harker Day School

    Harker Day School
    The Harker Day School was established in 1959, after Donald Nichols purchased Miss Harker's School. It was simply The Harker School at the time of purchase and continued under that name for the first two years. In 1961 the name changed to The Harker Day School and added "for boys and girls" as a tag line under the school name in the school brochures. Show more...
  • 1972

    Harker Academy

    Harker Academy
    Harker Academy formed as the result of the merger of the Harker Day School (campus) and the Palo Alto Military Academy (campus) when the schools moved to the Saratoga campus at 500 Saratoga Ave., in San Jose in 1972. Show more...
  • 1992

    The Harker School

    The Harker School
    In 1992, we became The Harker School. Harker operates three campuses, all within three miles of each other and named for the streets where they are located. Show more...

Heads of School

  • 1893

    Frank Cramer (1861-1948)

    Manzanita Hall
    Founder & Principal, 1893-1902
    Frank Cramer
    Frank Cramer was born on Nov. 4, 1861 in Wausau, Wis. After graduating from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis., in 1886, Cramer worked as a teacher in his home state before moving to Palo Alto to attend Stanford University. Show more...
  • 1902

    Catherine Harker (1965-1952)

    Miss Harker's School
    Founder & Principal, 1902-1938
    Catherine Harker
    Catherine Harker was born on March 2, 1865, in Portland, Ore., the oldest of three daughters born to James Bartlett Harker and Sarah Ellen Polk Harker. A graduate of Vassar College, she began her career teaching Latin at Mills College in Oakland from 1890 to 1893, and again from 1898 to 1901. Show more...
  • 1919

    Colonel Richard P. Kelly (c.1896-1952)

    Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA)
    Superintendent, 1919-1950
    Col. Richard P. Kelly
    Colonel Kelly was born in New York and graduated from Cornell University in 1896. While at Cornell, he was editor of two of the university’s publications, wrote considerable poetry, and initially planned a literary career. Show more...
  • 1938

    Sara D. Harker (1868-1956)

    Served Miss Harker’s School 1907-1953
    Headmistress, 1938-1953
    Sara D. Harker
    Sara D. Harker was born in Portland, Ore., on April 1, 1868, the middle of three daughters born to James Bartlett Harker and Sarah Ellen Polk Harker. Show more...
  • 1950

    Major Donald L. Nichols (1911-1997)

    Served PAMA & Harker Day School 1950-1972
    Superintendent, PAMA 1950-1972
    President/Superintendent, Harker Day School 1959-1972
    Major Donald L. Nichols
    Donald L. Nichols, "the Major" as he was affectionately known to faculty, staff and students, was born in 1911 in Massachusetts and moved to California in 1923. Show more...
  • 1973

    Howard E. Nichols (1940-2008)

    Served PAMA, Harker Academy & The Harker School 1965-2005
    Headmaster, Harker Academy 1973-1992
    President, The Harker School 1992-2005
    Howard Nichols
    Howard E. Nichols was born on Oct. 10, 1940 in Bremerton, Wash. He moved to the Bay Area as an infant, and when he was in second grade his mother enrolled him at Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA). Show more...
  • 1993

    Diana Nichols (1942-)

    Served Harker Academy & The Harker School 1973-2005
    Head of School, The Harker School 1993-2005
    Diana Nichols
    Diana Nichols began her teaching career in 1963, as a biology teacher at Marshfield High School in her home state of Massachusetts. In 1965 she moved to Brockton High School, also in Massachusetts, where she taught College Biology and AP Biology. Show more...
  • 2005

    Chris Nikoloff (1967-)

    Served The Harker School, 1999 to 2017
    Head of School, The Harker School 2005 to 2017
    Chris Nikoloff
    Christopher Nikoloff was born and raised in upstate New York, near the famous thoroughbred racing town of Saratoga. In fact, probably due to his height, he served as a security guard to winning jockeys two summers in a row, protecting them from would-be hecklers. Show more...


  • 1951

    Family & Alumni Picnic

    Started at PAMA
    The Harker Family & Alumni Picnic is a tradition dating back to 1951, when the first picnic was held on the grounds of the Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA) campus. Show more...
  • 1972

    Auctions and Fundraising

    Dated back to The Harker Academy
    Auction & Fundraising
    The Harker Academy Fathers’ and Mothers’ Clubs were the core of the fundraising efforts in the early years of our school. These clubs sponsored spaghetti dinners, holiday dances, boutiques and candy and bake sales to support the costs of facility and faculty needs. Show more...
  • 2008

    A Birthday Tradition

    In honor of Howard Nichols
    Birthday Tradition
    Howard Nichols, president of The Harker School from 1973-2005, kept a cookie jar in his office and maintained an open invitation for anyone – students, staff and faculty – to come by and have a cookie. Show more...


  • c.1900

    Boarding Program

    Origin: Manzanita Hall & Miss Harker's School
    Boarding Program
    From the earliest days at Manzanita Hall and Miss Harker's School, residential life was an integral part of the schools' programs. Both schools offered the boarding option to the upper school students. Show more...
  • 1903


    Origin: Miss Harker's School
    “Not to be served, but to serve – Non ministrari, sed ministrare.” This motto from The Harker School dates back to Miss Harker’s School for Girls and represents a core value that permeates our school culture. Show more...
  • 1907

    Performing Arts

    Origin: Miss Harker's School
    Performing Arts
    Harker boasts over a century of excellence in performing arts. “The Princess,” adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name, was performed by the juniors and seniors of Miss Harker’s School for Girls in 1907. Show more...
  • c.1920

    Summer Programs

    Origin: PAMA
    Summer Programs
    Summer fun has been a part of our history dating back to the 1920s, when Palo Alto Military Academy’s summer program brochure described a schedule of morning academics, followed by military drills, calisthenics, swimming, baseball and hikes. Show more...
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