Shipley was founded in 1894 by three sisters, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Katharine Shipley, to prepare students for Bryn Mawr College. The Shipleys, strong-minded and well-educated Quaker ladies, believed firmly in what was then a controversial idea—education for women. Their establishment was to be far more than a finishing school. In the fall of 1894, when the School opened with six students and nine faculty members, a philosophy of education was established that would guide the School for over a hundred years, up to the present time.

In their first catalogue, the Shipley sisters stated that it would “be their aim to fit [the student] to enter college with a mind trained to habits of scientific study and a character qualified, in as far as possible, to receive the highest culture.” That mission, rephrased for successive generations, has remained. We have always taught critical thinking. The School was and is concerned with character development.

By 1950 the School was enrolling some 340 students, one third of whom were in Pre-School through Grade Seven. Half of the Upper School students were boarders from all over the country, as well as Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Shipley graduates were going to colleges beyond Bryn Mawr—to the other traditional women’s colleges as well as coeducational schools.

Over the years, the School added land, buildings, playing fields, science labs, gymnasiums, and a theater. But the aims expressed in the 1950 catalogue had not changed much since 1894: “Each girls’ development as a useful, interesting, happy, and increasingly mature person is considered of first importance. Intellectual curiosity and a sense of individual responsibility are encouraged in every way.”

In the 1970s and ’80s Shipley underwent two dramatic changes. It started accepting boys and it closed the boarding department. The last boarding students graduated in 1982 and by 1984 the School was fully coeducational, with equal numbers of boys and girls. Over time we have augmented our traditional teaching methods and facilities with growing technological expertise, tools, and facilities of which the three Shipley sisters could never have dreamed.

For over a hundred years, Shipley and its mission have made the changes to adapt to a world unforeseen in 1894. We have always known that our students would need to be equipped to deal with constant challenges and change. It has been and continues to be our mandate to prepare them for their future.
October 3, 1894: Hannah, Elizabeth, and Katharine Shipley take their first pupil to pre­pare her for Bryn Mawr College entrance examinations. The School begins with six students and nine faculty.
1895: Main School Building is purchased.
1916: Alice Howland and Eleanor Brownell purchase The Shipley School and become co-heads.
1932: Shipley is incorporated as a not-for-profit institution and the first Board of Trustees purchases the School, its buildings and property from the "Hownells."
1937: Townsend House is purchased.
1940: Brownell House is purchased.
1941: Mildred and J. Russell Lynes become heads of Shipley.
1943: Shipley Alumnae Association is founded.
1944: Margaret Bailey Speer becomes head of Shipley. Gladwyne Farm and Athletic Fields are deeded to the School by the "Hownells."
1945: Howland House is purchased. Augusta Wagner comes to Shipley as Associate Headmistress.
1948: Alumnae Office opens.
1952: Addition to the Main School Building is completed.
1956: Beechwood House is purchased for grades 1-3.
1959: Wagner House and 919 Montgomery Avenue are purchased.
1961: 841 Montgomery Avenue, the Head of School's house, is purchased.
1964: Middle House is dedicated for grades 4-7.
1965: Isota Tucker Epes '36 becomes head of Shipley. Margaret Bailey Speer Library and Classroom Wing are dedicated.
1966: Fuller property is purchased. New School House is dedicated.
1967: Shipley School Endowment Fund is established with $9,000.
1972: First boys are admitted to Shipley, in grades K-3. First males graduate from Shipley (four one-year seniors from Episcopal). Nancy E. Lauber becomes head.
1977: Yarnall Gymnasium is dedicated.
1978: Riely Theatre is dedicated.
1979: Frederic L Chase III assumes headship.
1980-1981: Foulkes property is purchased and playing fields are constructed.
1981: Squash courts are dedicated.
1982: Last boarding student graduates from Shipley.
1985: Gary R. Gruber becomes Head of School.
1987: Founders' Chair, Shipley's first endowed teaching chair, is established.
1992: Steve Piltch becomes Head of School. Yarnall Gymnasium is rededicated in memory of Hester Yarnall.
1993: West Middle School opens for grades 6-8.
1993-1994: Shipley's year-long Centennial celebration.
1995: Snyder Science Center and Upper School renovations completed.
1997: Margaret Bailey Speer Distinguished Teachers Fund established in memory of Miss Speer.
1998: Avery Silverman Dining Hall addition and Riely Theatre renovation completed. Elizabeth Gwinn Field at the Farm dedicated.
2002: 20 Million Dollar Capital Campaign Completed. Beechwood House Opening. Lower School Additions and Renovations Completed
2006-2007: Turf fields installed at the Farm and the Lower Campus.
2009-2011 Shipley embarked upon Phase I of The Campaign for Shipley (Foundations for Success). More than $22 million was contributed, increasing endowment by more than $6 million and enabling major facilities improvements:
  • Purchase and razing of Thornbrook Manor apartment building
  • New campus entrance at Wyndon & North Merion Avenues
  • 88-space parking garage and physical plant facility
  • Six (6) tennis courts
  • Two (2) multi-sport regulation-size artificial turf fields
2011- 2015 Phase II of the Campaign for Shipley (Foundations for Success) raised $25 million for endowment, programmatic support and Upper Campus facilities, including:
  • A 23,000 square-foot Shipley Commons and Arts Center
  • Renovation in the Main building to house the new Learning and Research Center (multimedia library and research facility)


The Shipley School, a Pre-Kindergarten through 12 coeducational day school, is committed to educational excellence and dedicated to developing in each student a love of learning and a compassionate participation in the world. Through a strong college preparatory curriculum in the humanities and sciences, the school encourages curiosity, creativity, and respect for intellectual effort. Shipley upholds and promotes moral integrity, a sense of personal achievement and worth, and concern for others at school and in the larger community.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.