Saint Mary's Hall was founded by Bishop Robert W.B. Elliott, the first Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Texas. The school, first established in 1879 under the leadership of Bishop Elliott, was a boarding and day school for girls of all faiths and, for a short time, housed the congregation of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church. The attempts to establish a school of this sort began as early as 1865 when an Episcopal school by the same name was opened. And, although it failed, it left such a strong foundation that, under Bishop Elliott’s guidance, the Saint Mary’s Hall of today came into existence.
Wolfe Hall Campus
Originally located in downtown San Antonio in Wolfe Hall at Navarro and Martin, Saint Mary’s Hall has been located on a total of four campuses over our 130+ years of existence. Wolfe Hall was originally built in 1865 with the intention of being a boys school, and when this proved to be impossible, a girls’ school, by the name of Saint Mary’s Hall was established in the Wolfe Hall building. This school existed from 1866 until sometime around 1873. Under the leadership of Bishop Elliott, Saint Mary’s Hall was re-established and opened in 1879 with Miss Philippa Stevenson as its first headmistress.
Due to the decline of the facilities and the growth of the downtown area, Bishop Capers (the Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Texas at the time) decided to move the campus to a home in the Laurel Heights neighborhood at 2001 San Pedro on the corner of San Pedro and Woodlawn. The home was leased from D.J. Woodward and later purchased by the school.
French Place Campus
Saint Mary’s Hall was incorporated as a non-profit educational institution with an independent self-perpetuating Board of Trustees. Shortly thereafter, the Board of Trustees approved the purchase of a larger and more modern facility in the Laurel Heights neighborhood at 117 East French Place which was purchased from Alfred Ward. This location became the home for the school for the next four decades, and was sold to San Antonio Academy in 1966.
Did You Know?
The Saint Mary’s Hall motto, “Teach us delight in simple things” first appeared on the French Place campus where it was set in bronzed lettering in the stone steps of the school building. The phrase is thought to have come from The Children's Song, a poem by Rudyard Kipling. This bronze lettering was moved here from the French Place campus to its current home on the Starcrest campus in 1968 and is located at the front entrance to the Administration Building.
1925: Capers & Elliott
In the fall of 1925, Headmistress Ruth Coit organized an athletic association in the Upper School, and two intramural teams were formed: the Elliott and Capers, named in honor of Bishop Elliott and Bishop Capers, the two Episcopalian Bishops who were instrumental to the founding and modern re-organization of Saint Mary’s Hall. Teams are typically chosen during the first week of school, and students remain on their team throughout his or her time in the Upper School.
Today’s Capers and Elliott team captains are still elected by the student body and compete throughout the year, including at the annual Bishops’ Day.
1928: Alma Mater
The Saint Mary’s Hall Alma Mater was written by Caroline S. Cummins, and the music was composed by Mabel C. Osborne. Later that year, it was copyrighted by headmistress Ruth Coit.
Also in this year, the first edition of the Saint Mary’s Hall yearbook, La Reata, was published with a forward written by Ruth Coit. Among other things, this first yearbook reported on the newly formed “Stirr Up Club,” which had been formed to promote equestrian riding at Saint Mary’s Hall and had succeeded in “winning first prize in the Battle of Flowers with their Calvacade.”
Just as with the first edition of La Reata, today’s yearbook is still edited and created by students on a yearly basis.
Blue Tie Ceremony
The first Blue Tie Ceremony was held on September 10, 1940 when the first blue ties were awarded to the Class of 1941. This ceremony is a rite of passage for seniors, and occurs during the first week of the new school year. It is during this ceremony that members of the senior class are presented with their class rings and blue ties. Today, this special event includes a convocation event with the entire school in attendance; a parade where seniors celebrate their transition from juniors to seniors; and the Blue Tie Ceremony.
Also during the 1940s, Fiesta, our school festival was held on the Saint Mary’s Hall campus. The booths at these early Fiestas were created and run by the students, and included fortune-telling, baked goods, and face-painting. Today the annual event is held in the fall on the grounds of the SMH campus and hosts more than 1,000 students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends in a carnival-style afternoon of food, fun, and games.
Saint Mary’s Hall began facing the problems of progress and expansion, and the Board of Trustees decided that the school should develop a new campus to meet present needs and future demands. To raise the needed money, the school held its very first capital campaign with a goal of $2.38 million. This amount was exceeded by parents, alumnae, trustees, foundations, and other members of the Saint Mary's Hall family. The 60-acre plot of land purchased was located at 9401 Starcrest Drive, and included the Montessori School, which had been built adjacent to the land. The associated firms of San Antonio architects O’Neil Ford and Bartlet Cocke, who had designed Trinity University, were asked to help design the new campus.
The Starcrest campus was occupied in November, with more than 300 students and faculty (including 119 boarding students). The new facilities offered modern buildings and grounds that allowed for future growth.
Since that time the Board of Trustees has worked to expand and upgrade the facilities, and Saint Mary's Hall has become a non-denominational, coeducational day school with more than 950 students.
Coeducation in the Upper School (Forms 9-12) was fully implemented in 1987. The school had included boys in their educational program through Form 2 for many years prior to this. Initially,the Board of Trustees made the decision to expand the coeducational format through Form 6 in order to accommodate male students from The Montessori School who might want to continue their education at Saint Mary’s Hall beyond the Montessori years. In 1979, boys were invited to attend the school through Form 8, and in 1987 the school extended its coeducational program through Form 12.
Did You Know?
This auction-style fundraiser was created to bring the community together in a social setting on the school campus to help raise funds for the school. The highlight of many of the early Passport events was the student-made quilts created by each Form level which were sold in a live-auction format to the highest bidder. Today’s Passport is held on a biennial basis, and is the biggest fundraiser for the school. The event includes online and live auctions, and still includes many student-made projects. It is the social highlight of the spring and is a great way for the Saint Mary’s Hall community to get together.
Boarding School Becomes Day School
In 2003, Saint Mary's Hall made the transition from a boarding school to a day school. In 2005, the residence dormitories that were reserved for boarding students were converted into classrooms for the Middle School. Soon after, a monument named, Residence Clock, was given to the school in honor of the Saint Mary’s Hall boarding students and the Residence Department. The names of three boarding school students are listed on the clock: Frances Dilworth Dilworth (’49), Diane Dilworth Gates (’76), and Thomas Albert Gates, Jr. (’02) as are the names of the dormitories: Abercrombie, Cowles, Meyer, and Murchison.
The Bell Tower Becomes an SMH Icon
The SMH Campanile, also affectionately called “The Bell Tower,” was built in 2006 as part of the Marrs and Verna McLean Library Complex. The Bell Tower serves as an orientation point for all members of the school community. It has become an icon and a part of the school’s tradition.
For the first time in nearly 50 years, Saint Mary’s Hall set out to raise funds as part of a capital campaign to improve, expand, and build six major projects on campus. The I AM Saint Mary’s Hall campaign, which was completed in the spring of 2013, successfully raised $25 million. By the end of this campaign, the Peggy Pitman Mays Dining Hall, Social Science & History Center, Alonso Ancira Event Center, McCombs Family Athletic Complex, Coates-Seeligson Theater/Chapel, and Kim & Rod Lewis Track & Field were updated, expanded, or newly built.
Did You Know?
Saint Mary’s Hall was “mascot-less” from 1879 until 1970. During the 1970-1971 school year, references indicate that we were called the Saint Mary’s Hall Bobcats. Over the years, other mascots have come and gone including Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon.
In 2009, a committee of students from the Upper and Middle School was formed to determine and define who the SMH Baron really was and what he embodied to today’s students. Today’s Baron is a warrior that is symbolic of the inner toughness, grit, and determination of our students.