Founder and First Headmistress
Heads of School 1890-Present
|While educating girls for college was a daring idea to most people in 1890, it wasn’t to Virginia Randolph Ellett. She knew that young women could handle the rigorous work of higher education—if they received the right preparation. Before long, St. Catherine’s academic reputation grew to the point where it was the principal reason for Richmond’s selection as the eighth city worldwide to offer the Bryn Mawr entrance exam. With a curriculum described at the time as being “at once classical and revolutionary,” Miss Jennie’s school was the first in Richmond to send girls to college.|
In 1917 the school was incorporated and moved to its present site in the Westhampton area of Richmond. It was sold to the Episcopal Church in 1920 and renamed for St. Catherine, the patron saint of young women. Miss Jennie, who had relinquished her headship some years before, continued to teach and live at the school until her death in 1939. To this day Miss Jennie is remembered fondly as a pioneer in women’s education and as a woman who never ceased educating herself. She is also remembered for the earnestness of her endeavor to educate others and the spirit of joy and fun through which she achieved it. While Miss Jennie’s mission of preparing young women for college remains at the heart of St. Catherine’s (100% of our graduates continue their education—many to the nation’s most selective colleges and universities), the school has evolved a great deal over the last 110 years. In Miss Jennie’s day, English, history and French were considered to be the most important subjects for young women, and the school reflected this in its curriculum.
Today, while those departments remain strong and innovative, math and science courses are emphasized equally. St. Catherine’s has embraced technology and all the ways it enhances education, and the Wright Library and Technology Center give students access to the most current research methods available. In addition, the Wright Library contains a superb and growing print collection that provides a necessary foundation for strong research skills. With a fine faculty, excellent facilities, a healthy endowment and highly motivated students, St. Catherine’s is looking at a bright future. Just as Miss Jennie never could have predicted what heights her school would attain more than one hundred years after its founding, we surely cannot imagine what the next century will bring. What we do know is that St. Catherine’s will continue to give its students the best possible preparation for their college years and beyond.