When the first students arrived at the all-female St. Mary’s School in Raleigh in 1842, women were a long way from having the right to vote and most were unable to gain the type of education the school was offering. Many families did not put a high priority on women getting high-level schooling. St. Mary’s survived that sentiment, a Civil War, World Wars and changing times in terms of rules of behavior and social customs. It weathered as well the evolution of education and, against tremendous competition, gave up its two-year college program, becoming only a high school in 1998.
It prospers still, beginning its 175th year with day students from the Raleigh area and boarding students from neighboring counties and even some from far distances. And consider that of the 270 students now enrolled, roughly a quarter are members of the Granddaughter’s Club, which includes direct descendants of alumnae.
Monica Gillespie, head of school, says, “We’ve endured times of social upheaval, and we have been able to meet the needs of girls so that they can serve the world, and that’s something we’ve been very proud of.”
Importantly, the school has charged through challenges that have caused doors to close on other schools: Some worried that giving up the school’s two-year college program would bring the school to an end; it didn’t. And there always have been concerns about finances in the highly competitive world of private education. St. Mary’s carries on.