In the spring of 1909, Mary Vardrine McBee bought the Spring-Witte estate 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 and 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.