A national paradigm shift in education began right here.
In 1836, the 37-year-old Right Reverend George Washington Doane, second Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey, purchased a large three-story building in Burlington, on the banks of the Delaware River.
Bishop Doane transformed it into an Episcopal boarding school for girls, which he called Saint Mary’s Hall. It would be the first such school to educate young girls on an equal footing with the best of boys’ schools.
The academic education of girls in the early 19th century was nearly non-existent, except for some private finishing schools which taught girls “proper” behavior in society and some domestic skills. Bishop Doane realized that women truly are “the corners of the temple” and that they could, with serious academic education, wisely influence the character of young people, as well as their husbands and others, and hence the future of the nation. It was a revolutionary concept, and one that was scoffed-at in some newspaper editorials of the time.
Bishop Doane raised capital for the new school by issuing shares of stock. A severe financial depression hit the United States just as St. Mary's school was opening and the money needed to run the school dried up. Saint Mary’s Hall carried on though, financed mainly through the personal funds of Eliza Green Perkins Doane, Bishop Doane’s wife. She dedicated the whole of a $9500 annual dowry, received from the estate of her late first husband, to the bishop’s vision, and saved the school.
About Our Founder
George Washington Doane was Episcopal bishop of New Jersey from October 1832 until his passing at Burlington, New Jersey, in 1859.
In 1832 the diocese of New Jersey was an unpromising field, but he took up his work here with characteristic vigor, especially in the foundation of the all-girls boarding school of St. Mary's Hall in 1837 (now coeducational day school, Doane Academy) and Burlington College (1846-1877).
The schools showed him an able and wise administrator and educator, and his patriotic orations and sermons proved him a speaker of great power. He belonged to the High Church party and was a brilliant conversationalist. He published 'Songs by the Way' (1824), a volume of poems; and his hymns beginning "Softly now the light of day" and "Thou art the Way" are well known.
He commissioned John Notman to build a chapel for St. Mary's Hall, completed 1847, and Richard Upjohn for St. Mary's Church, his episcopal seat, completed in 1856. Both buildings have been recognized as National Historic Landmarks.
George Washington Doane is buried in St. Mary's churchyard; less than a ten minute walk from the campus of the school that bears his name.