Modern-Day St. Mary’s School True to Its Nineteenth Century Roots

On May 12, 1842, the first classes got underway at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh.

Established through the vision and fundraising efforts of Episcopalian minister Aldert Smedes and his wife Sarah, the school for women was converted from a similar institution for young men, built in 1831. Smedes and his wife greeted the new students at the door, and from then on the couple acted more like family than faculty to the students.

Smedes personally interviewed each student for admission, and though most students came from prosperous families throughout North and South Carolina, Smedes would grant scholarships to girls whose families were unable to provide tuition.  He understood that the education of young women, as well as the confidence and skills it confers, was essential for coming generations.

The chapel at St. Mary's School, circa 1910.
Image from the State Archives.

The school offered a junior college program until 1997, but shuttered that program to focus on high school and college preparatory classes, which it continues to offer this day.

The school’s entire 23-acre campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its iconic Gothic Revival style campus chapel, designed by architect Richard Upjohn in 1857, is a Raleigh landmark.