Ashley Hall (school)

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Ashley Hall (school)
Charleston, South Carolina
United States
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Type Private, All Girls' Day School
Motto Possunt Quae Volunt (Girls who have the will have the ability)
Founded 1909
Head of School Jill Swisher Muti
Faculty 72
Grades Primary2 through 12
Enrollment 650
Campus urban
Campus size 4.5 acres (1.8 ha)
Color(s) Purple and white
Nickname Panthers
Yearbook Spiral

Ashley Hall is an all-girls day school in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. It was founded in 1909 by Mary Vardrine McBee, who headed the institution for many years. It is the only girls' college-preparatory school in the state. Originally accepting boarding students, Ashley Hall transitioned to a day school in 1974.

Students today number 650 strong and range in grade level from two-year-olds in pre-primary classes, to graduating seniors. Pre-school is the only part of Ashley Hall which admits boys.

Ashley Hall has always been a mission-driven school. For more than 100 years the founding mission, To create educated women who are independent, ethically responsible and prepared to face the challenges of society with confidence, has commanded every stage of evolution of the school's educational program and its campus.

The school motto is Possunt Quae Volunt, or “Girls who have the will have the ability.” The previous motto was Possunt Qui Volunt, or “Those willing are able.” This is the masculine form of the phrase, which was not realized until 2003, when a junior AP Latin student suggested the revision.


The student population is 650. This number includes students from the age of 2 years to seniors in high school.

Pre-school (ages 2–4) is coeducational, and from kindergarten through senior year the student body is made up of only girls.

Ashley Hall is the only all-girls school in the state of South Carolina.

Heads of school

  • Mary Vardrine McBee (1909–48)
  • William Piper (1949–54)
  • Caroline Pardue (1954–78)
  • Marian Bell Leland (1979–84)
  • Margaret C. MacDonald (1985–2004)
  • Jill Swisher Muti (2004–present)[1]

School publications

Student publications

  • Spiral – School Yearbook
  • Acanthus – Upper School Literary Magazine

Development Publications

  • Perspectives – official school magazine, distributed to all alumni, families, students and faculty [2]


Ashley Hall participates in the South Carolina Independent School Association or SCISA.

Ashley Hall is famed for its excellent Varsity Volleyball and Tennis Teams.

Rivalries exist with Porter-Gaud School and Bishop England High School


  • Fall Sports: Cross Country (ClassAAA State Champions 2010), Golf, Sailing (JV and Varsity), Swimming, Tennis (JV and Varsity), Volleyball (Class AAA State Champions 2007, 2008, 2009)[3]
  • Winter Sports: Basketball (JV and Varsity)
  • Spring Sports: Soccer, Lacrosse, Softball, Tennis, Equestrian, and Track (Class AAA State Champions 2013, 2014)


Big Sister/Little Sister Program 
In the fall, each girl in grades 6–12 is paired with a “little sister” in K-5. Several events during the year highlight this relationship. Other “sister” associations develop: juniors and seniors, seniors and freshmen, and mentors for new students throughout all grades.
Acanthus is Ashley Hall's literary magazine. For over fifty years it has presented prose, poetry, photography and art contributed by students from all divisions within the school.
Christmas Play 
The Christmas Play, originating from the Nativity cycle of the medieval mystery plays of Chester, England, was first presented in 1924 under the direction of Mary Vardrine McBee, founder of Ashley Hall. Since that time it has been given annually as a Christmas gift to the city. Students, faculty and staff from all school divisions participate in the play.
Fathers' Day 
Since boarding school days, Fathers’ Day has been a spring break tradition at Ashley Hall. Students eagerly awaited their fathers who had come to pick them up for the holiday. As guests of their daughters, fathers would spend the morning on campus enjoying the company of students, other fathers and teachers. Today, Fathers’ Day is a special day of classroom visits and socializing.
Georgie, the friendly ghost, lives in McBee House and is the special friend of all first graders. Each October first grade students develop a correspondence with Georgie and climb to the top of the spiral stairs in hope of seeing their special friend.
Although all members of the Ashley Hall family are invited, the faculty, staff, and all students in grades 9–12 are required to participate in graduation activities. Students must wear pure white dresses and shoes to the baccalaureate service and to graduation. Baccalaureate services are held in a local church, with graduation exercises on the terrace of the campus. Seniors also wear pure white dresses. In addition to her diploma, the school presents each senior a bouquet of red roses and pin that represents the past and future of each girl.
Holiday Giving Program 
This program has been a tradition since 1954 to help remember those in the community less fortunate. Gifts of clothing, toys, or canned goods are presented by each student and faculty member at an assembly before vacation. Local agencies distribute the gifts to families and children in the Lowcountry.
Junior – Senior Activities 
The 11th – 12th grade classes have a special relationship. One significant event is held when seniors kidnap juniors for an afternoon of activities during the fall. The junior-senior luncheon is hosted in the spring by the junior class. It is built around a theme with skits and music. During the weekend the seniors host the prom.
Play Day/Field Day 
Play days, the climax of the sports and team competition, are annual spring afternoons of fun and competition for Intermediate and Upper School. The purple and white teams compete on drill teams, races and land events. Each afternoon ends with an awards ceremony. The Lower School's field day is also held in the spring. The students are divided into cross-grade level groups to compete in outdoor events, followed by a picnic lunch.
Purple and White Teams 
Beginning in grade 5, each student is a member of one team. If a member of the student's family attended Ashley Hall, she is automatically on that relative's team. New student team members are chosen by lot. The goal of each team is to encourage good sportsmanship, teamwork, loyalty and friendly competition. A student does not contribute to her team solely through athletics; points are accumulated by participation in academic and extracurricular activities as well. The team cup is awarded at the end of the year to the team with the most points.
Shell House 
Shell House was originally built as an aviary and used as a chemistry lab when the school was established. It is now a retreat for seniors.
Women in Leadership 
The annual Women in Leadership programs highlight women in career fields and community activism. It is an intergenerational activity, open to the entire community. Middle and Upper School students attend the presentations, and family members are encouraged to participate.
Year-end Ceremonies 
In Lower and Intermediate Schools, special recognition is given to 4th and 6th graders during closing assemblies. A reception is given in honor of each class as it moves from one school division to the next. An awards program at the end of the school year recognizes academic and extracurricular achievements of girls in grades 7–12. It is a major activity during graduation weekend and is followed by a reception for seniors.[4]


In the spring of 1909, Mary Vardrine McBee bought the James Nicholson House at 172 Rutledge Avenue to found an independent college preparatory school for girls. She named the school Ashley Hall. During her forty year tenure, the school grew from just 46 students in grades 10–12 to a much larger student body in Lower, Middle and Upper schools.

Miss McBee set the tone for the school – holding it to the highest academic standards, establishing the Alumnae Association, instilling many of the traditions that still exist today, and acquiring facilities that would serve as the foundation for the institution for years to come. Her school included the McBee House (now so named) and surrounding grounds, an indoor swimming pool, the "Old Gym" (Burges auditorium), kitchen and dining room, the Headmistress House and faculty apartments across the street from Ashley Hall.

In 1948, in order for the school to continue to operate as a non-profit institution under a Board of Trustees, the Ashley Hall Foundation was established. The Foundation purchased Ashley Hall from Miss McBee in 1949, the year of her retirement. The Foundation's first move was to appoint Mr. William Piper as Head of School. He served as Head from 1949–1954. Mr. Piper was an acknowledged fiscal expert and helped put the school in good economic standing.

Caroline Pardue joined Ashley Hall in 1950 as the Academic Head of the Upper School and teacher of history. She was appointed Headmistress in 1954 and continued to serve in that capacity for the next 25 years until 1978. Her many accomplishments include the establishment of Pardue, Lane and Jenkins Halls to officially house Lower, Middle and Upper school classrooms, the construction of Davies Auditorium, and the incorporation of a kindergarten for boys and girls. It was also during her leadership that the school shifted its student base, eliminating boarding opportunities to focus on providing local students with a superior education. Upon Miss Pardue's retirement, Marian Bell Leland assumed the role of Headmistress during the years of 1979–1984. Mrs. Leland was instrumental in and created the Capital Campaign, “The Ashley Hall Fund,” which funded the construction of the school's gymnasium.

Margaret C. MacDonald led Ashley Hall from 1985–2004. She is credited for elevating the school's academic standards, expanding programs, and educating both her faculty and the community on the value of an education that addressed the specific learning needs of girls and young women. She established financial aid programs and additional scholarships, initiated the school's first campus master plan, developed teaching excellence awards, the aquatics and admissions departments, and added to the physical property of the school. Mrs. MacDonald, along with the school's Board of Trustees, also helped create the 2003–2008 Strategic Plan. This comprehensive blueprint outlines the future goals of the school as they relate to academics, student and faculty recruitment and facilities enhancements.

Notable alumnae


Charleston legend has it that George Trenholm, a resident of the McBee House, the mansion on the school property, was the man on whom Margaret Mitchell based the character Rhett Butler in her novel, Gone with the Wind.


External links