Four Richmond parents, inspired by the March 1996 symposium, “Empowering Girls: Strategies for Parents and Teachers” led by educator Nancy Davies, developed the idea of creating a different middle school experience for their daughters.
Affectionately known as "The Founding Mothers," these women dreamed of a small, all girls' middle school with a nurturing environment and a diverse student body. They contacted Ms. Davies in late 1996, consulting with her about their idea for a new school. For months, the growing group met on Friday afternoons to talk about educating girls and what the emerging school would look like. In January 1998, Ms. Davies agreed to be the Founding Head of a new school.
In naming the school, one parent, remembering Little Women, made the suggestion of "Orchard House," the long-standing home of the famous literary family, the Alcotts of Concord, Massachusetts. It was Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott penned her famous diaries, which became the text for Little Women, an American classic beloved by school-aged girls for decades.
Similarly to the book, Orchard House School celebrates the differences and tremendous affection among sisters growing up. It strives to provide extraordinary education for middle school girls, constantly developing, evaluating, and implementing cutting edge research and programs.
With the vision intact, admissions meetings were held at public libraries throughout the city and surrounding areas. Plans were made for school to begin. Careful and intentional thought was given to every aspect of the curriculum and the learning environment.
On September 5, 1998, twelve sixth graders and five seventh graders started classes under the guidance of two full-time and seven part-time teachers, including Ms. Davies. Orchard House rented the Ginter Park Recreational Association at 3421 Hawthorne Avenue in the Northside of Richmond, which served as its home for six years.
In its second year Orchard House added the fifth and eighth grades, aligning with its vision and research. In 1999, Orchard House had grown to 47 girls and in 2000, had its first graduating class.
Over the next few years, enrollment grew to the school's intended capacity of 80 girls, and Orchard House successfully purchased a historic building at 500 North Allen Avenue. The school underwent major restorations in the summer of 2004 in preparation for the upcoming school year.
Orchard House opened the doors of its permanent home on September 7, 2004. Its urban location affords the girls many opportunities to become involved with the city, such as visiting museums and libraries, participating in clean-up projects, and working with younger children and the elderly in neighboring schools and agencies. After graduation, Orchard House girls have attended a diverse array of area high schools, both public and private, mirroring the diverse elementary schools from which girls enter Orchard House.
Since opening its doors to the first 17 students, Orchard House School has been nurturing the hearts and minds of middle school girls and developing within them the strength and confidence to lead extraordinary lives. Our girls are ready for the future – and so are we.