Hershey Chronicle


Reprinted by permission

"It was Kitty's idea," Milton Hershey always said when he spoke of the Hershey Industrial School.

Both he and his wife Catherine shared a love for children, but some time early on in their marriage they realized they would never have children of their own.

In their discussions of creating the school, Kitty was said to have wished to provide a haven for those in need of a good home and a better chance in life.

To that end, the Mr. and Mrs. Hershey established a trust fund in 1909 to found a school for "poor, healthy white, male orphans between the ages of 8 through 18 years of age."

The paperwork was signed Nov. 15, 1909 in New York City, deeding 486 acres of good farming land including the Homestead and all the livestock; buildings and other property to the Hershey Trust Company, as trustee, "with the purpose of founding and endowing in perpetuity an institution to be known as the `Hershey Industrial School' to be located in Derry Township."

This was to be a home where boys who had lost one or both parents by death could live.

Hershey explained that girls were not provided for at his new school because "the boys are really two things. First, in an orphan situation, they are less wanted around the house because they don't take to housework and homemaking chores like girls do, mainly because they think of cooking and cleaning and sewing as `sissy' things to do. The other reason is because the boy is in need of training as a future head of a family and the main wage earner. If he's trained well enough, he can buy a home and support his family so his wife won't have to work - outside the home that is."

And so the next year, on Sept. 1, 1910, two boys were admitted to the school. They were Nelson, aged 6, and his brother Irvin, 4. Their father, a polisher in the Gray Iron Works in Mount Joy, had died after a long illness. Their mother had tried to support her six children by washing and ironing clothes, but was unable to make ends meet. She brought three of her boys to be interviewed by the school committee, but the youngest, William, 2, was considered too small to be admitted. His name was put on a waiting list and he entered the school when he was 4, but his two brothers were accepted at once.

Two brothers of another family, arrived a few days later, the sons of an Evangelical church's pastor. Their mother struggled to support her family working in a shirt factory.

They lived in the Homestead, the Derry Township birthplace of Milton S. Hershey and his father, Henry which was built by Milton Hershey's great-grandfather Isaac Hershey in 1826. Hershey appointed George and Prudence Copenhaver the school's first teachers and houseparents. Lessons were taught in the west end of the Homestead which Milton's father, Henry, had used as a library. There were no desks, but the boys sat around a long table and there was a blackboard on the wall.

As the school grew, the Homestead became too small for its needs and a cow barn was converted into a schoolroom and the bigger boys were separated from the smaller ones.

Kitty was not often well enough to go out to see the school, but M.S. Hershey visited it every week. And once a year, each class of boys was invited to the Hershey's home, Highpoint Mansion, for a breakfast of cocoa and toast.

And the school continued to grow. In 1912, a kindergarten was organized in another house. In 1914, another home was turned into a primary department, with the older boys still being educated at the Homestead.

M.S. Hershey traveled to New York to consult with authorities at the Russell Sage Foundation about the best way of administering an institution of this kind. He went to visit the school in Philadelphia that had been founded by Stephen Girard.

He was willing to accept suggestions, and advice, but he maintained most of the basic precepts that had inspired him to open the school in the first place.

First, there was his belief that every graduate should develop a vocational skill that would always allow him to make a living in his adult life. This evolved into a hands-on vocational education program which was at first evidenced in the carpentry shop where the boys made their own beds and chests to keep clothes in.

Then there was Hershey's religious background. Although he was a nonsectarian who claimed the "Golden Rule" as his religion, Hershey insisted that the boys learn to love both God and man. Sunday School was held regularly at the Homestead.

The third precept was in Hershey's belief in the wholesomeness of farm life. Starting in March 1929, the dairy chore program was begun to actively employ the boys on the farms where they lived with their houseparents.

Hershey told colleagues that he wanted his boys to have everything he lacked in his own upbringing-a good education and a sense of stability and security. He believed that environment, not heredity, determined the bent of a man's character.

And all the while, enrollment continued to creep upward; by 1914, the school boasted an enrollment of 40 boys.

Then on March 25, 1915, Hershey's wife,, who had been ill for years, died in Philadelphia. After her death, Hershey donated his entire estate to the Hershey Trust for the benefit of the school, including thousands of acres of land and all his stock in the chocolate company.

That gift provided the spark to ignite the school's booming enrollment. Ivanhoe, the school's first major education building opened on Sept. 5, 1921. Six years later, Fanny B. Memorial Hall opened.

On Oct. 30, 1933, the Deed of Trust was modified to permit the enrollment of boys up to the age of 14.

The junior-senior high school building, which would become known as Senior Hall, was dedicated on Pat's Hill on Nov. 15, 1934.

During this time, Hershey continued to be involved in the school's operations. He died Oct. 13, 1945 at the age of 88.

After his death, the name of the school was changed to the Milton Hershey School because the word "industrial school" had developed the connotation of penitentiary, according to Gilbert Nurick, a partner in the law firm of McNees, Wallace and Nurick, which had represented and continues to represent the Hershey interests. That change took place on Dec. 24, 1951.

The next major change at the school came on May 22,1968, when the school's Board of Managers announced a new policy of accepting applications for admission without regard to racial criteria specified in the Deed of Trust.

"This was done completely voluntarily by the board," Nurick said. "I say that to their credit. It wasn't done under any coercion. Details were worked out with the NAACP for orderly acceptance of black students on a totally equal basis."

The first nonwhite student was enrolled Aug. 8, 1968.

The school's Deed of Trust was formally modified on Dec. 24, 1970, to enroll students without regard to race or color. The first girls were admitted to the school March 14, 1977.

"It was opened up to girls," Nurick said. "And there again, I suspect even today the law would not require that, but that was a voluntary situation, partly motivated by the desire to keep families together. A brother and a sister ought not be separated if they are orphans within the definition of the trust."

In 1976, the Deed of Trust was modified again to permit the enrollment of students without regard to gender. It was at this time that the deed was also modified to expand the definition of "orphan" to include any child not receiving adequate parental care at home, thus allowing for the enrollment of "social orphans."

"Of quite great significance is the definition of an orphan where you don't have to have either parent dead if you are what we call a `societal orphan.' That means a broken home or parents who are very ill and who need this sort of help."

The practice of milking cows twice a day was discontinued in 1989 because it interfered too much with extra-curricular activities, however the students were still required to be responsible for chores to help keep the farms running.

In the early 1990s the school went through a period of turmoil, naming four presidents in a span of a few months. There were also widespread community reactions to some changes taking place at the school, with protests and marches taking place in town.

Teachers at the school voted to have union representation in 1993 and houseparents voted to unionize a year later.

The new Memorial Hall was dedicated Nov. 15, 1995 as plans for the centralized campus progressed for which construction continues today.

Currently, the campus has 97 student homes, each with a married couple who serve as surrogate parents for the 10-12 students in their care. Each home is equipped with the latest technology including five computers for student and houseparent use.

The school currently enrolls approximately 1,000 students on the 1,400-acre campus. Most of the students are not orphans in the traditional sense - the majority come from broken homes in poor inner-city neighborhoods.

But all benefit from that original gift, which is now worth more than $5 billion.

"The school was Kitty's idea," M.S. Hershey was often quoted as saying. "If we had helped a hundred children it would have all been worthwhile."

Instead, the school has helped thousands, and most of the school's alumni would agree that it was; indeed, well worthwhile.