Saint Mary's History
Our HistoryFounded in 1842 by the Rev. Aldert Smedes, an Episcopal priest, Saint Mary’s School has operated continuously on the same site ever since.
With the support of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Smedes founded Saint Mary’s as a school for young ladies "designed to furnish a thorough and excellent education equal to the best that can be obtained in the city of New York, or in any Northern school." The school was founded on the site of the Episcopal School of North Carolina, a short-lived school for boys in the 1830s. Three of the present school buildings―East Rock, West Rock and Smedes Hall―formed the original campus. East Rock and West Rock, the first two buildings, were constructed with remnant stones from the construction of the North Carolina state capitol.
History tells us 13 girls, The Original 13, arrived on May 12, 1842, for the first day at Saint Mary's. A total of 21 students enrolled for the first session.
During the Civil War, Saint Mary’s became a safe haven for relatives of both Union and Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee’s daughter and the family of Jefferson Davis. Smedes kept the school operating throughout the war. In 1865, General Tecumseh Sherman’s Union troops camped in The Grove on front campus, and Sherman visited Smedes in the main building.
Today, Saint Mary's School is an independent, Episcopal, college-preparatory, boarding and day school dedicated to academic excellence and personal achievement for girls in grades 9-12. Saint Mary's School remains true to Aldert Smedes' time-honored mission of providing an excellent education for young women.
The historic core of the school's 23-acre campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a stop on the North Carolina Civil War Trails. The Saint Mary’s Chapel, designed by Richard Upjohn, is a National Historic Site, and five of the school’s 25 buildings are Raleigh Historic Properties.
For a more detailed history of Saint Mary’s School, pick up a copy of The Heritage , written by Saint Mary’s faculty emerita, Martha Sprouse Stoops.