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Four Things You Didn’t Know About Catherine Hershey

catherine_c1900One of the best aspects of working in the Department of School History at Milton Hershey School is making history come alive for our students and enabling them to see Milton and Catherine Hershey as real people. Students learn that the Hersheys lived in a beautiful home, traveled the world, and gave to others, but also endured real challenges.

We have presented several programs about Catherine Hershey to students and adults over the years, including Jane Gurt’s recent “Hugs and Kisses for Catherine” program designed to bring females on campus together by modeling the kindness of Catherine Hershey.

Through researching, gathering, and sharing information about Catherine, we’ve found that many students can relate to her and appreciate her positive outlook on life. Catherine had strong character and possessed four significant personality traits:

1. Independence

Catherine had a strong sense of independence, leaving school her senior year to go to work. Unlike many young Irish immigrant girls of this time period who went into domestic service, Catherine honed her customer service skills as a shop girl in her hometown of Jamestown, New York.

Not content to work at just any store, Catherine worked in a jewelry store surrounded by beautiful things. Her witty and bubbly personality served her and her customers well.

Catherine working in the jewelry store in Jamestown, NY.

Catherine working in the jewelry store in Jamestown, NY.

2. Courage

Shortly after meeting Milton Hershey at a local confectionary, Catherine demonstrated courage by moving away from her hometown to the big city of New York. She worked in the ribbon department at B. Altman department store. Not long after her move to New York, Catherine and Milton married on May 25, 1898.

catherine_on_ship_c19133. Positivity and a Zest for Life

Marriage to Milton Hershey gave Catherine security in life, and she gave him joy and gaiety. Catherine was fun to be around, always quick to laugh and make others do the same.

Soon after their marriage, Catherine began showing signs of the debilitating illness that affected her life so deeply. The illness decreased her ability to be independent and mobile, but she always maintained a positive attitude and never let her illness affect her zest for life. She enjoyed furnishing High Point Mansion, planning the gardens of the grounds, traveling, shopping, and buying outrageous hats.

4. Resilience

As her illness progressed, Catherine never complained. She heard a story about a farmer who ran out of feed for his horse one winter and told the horse, “Now you live on and you’ll get grass” (in the spring). When she wasn’t feeling well, Catherine would say, “Live and you’ll get grass.”

Catherine Hershey is the embodiment of the characteristics that define MHS Spartans. She was loyal to her husband, courageous in how she handled her illness, resilient when adapting to her physical limitations, and determined to live life to the fullest. We can all learn something from the woman who had the original vision for Milton Hershey School.


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