History of the School

students golfing lessons pre-1950, large
Miss Marie Wallis established her school with just nine girls, in Marathon Avenue, Darling Point in 1886. Boarding was introduced the following year and the school expanded rapidly, necessitating the expansion into the neighbouring two terraces by 1890. The school officially took the name of ‘Ascham’ after Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth I’s tutor, in 1891. In September 1893, Ascham moved to nearby ‘Delamere’, on Darling Point Road, with the boarders housed at neighbouring ‘Queenscliff’, nicknamed ‘Little Ascham’.

The first school uniform, comprising a navy blue skirt with stripes on the hem, matching navy blue jacket with stripes on wrists, white blouse and straw hat with a blue ribbon, was also introduced in the mid-1890s. Several present day features of Ascham life were introduced during Miss Wallis’ era, including the school’s high academic standard and the magazine, The Charivari, established by three students in 1902. The Old Girls’ Union was also founded in 1899.

In 1902, Mr Herbert Carter, a former Senior Master at Sydney Grammar, bought Ascham from Miss Wallis. Mr Carter believed that girls should enjoy a similarly rounded education as boys, and expanded the existing sporting and co-curricular activities to balance the rigours of academic study. To this end, he leased ‘Mount Adelaide’, diagonally opposite ‘Delamere’ in which to house the boarders and to provide more space for the girls to play sport. The uncertainty of renting and the desire for the school to be consolidated on one site led to the Carters to purchase the Glenrock estate in 1909, the school’s present day site.


group photo pre-1920, mediumGlenrock 1926, medium

The Carters sold Ascham to Miss Margaret Bailey and Miss Kathleen Gilman-Jones in 1914. Fifteen months later, Miss Gilman-Jones took up the position as Headmistress of a Melbourne school, leaving Miss Bailey in sole charge of Ascham. Miss Bailey guided the school through the years of World War I and in 1922, introduced The Dalton Plan which remains the hallmark of the school’s academic excellence to this day.

Miss Bailey was also responsible for the purchase of ‘The Knoll’, renamed Macintosh House in 1930 and initiating the fundraising that enabled the purchase of ‘Fiona’ and the ‘Dower House’ in 1948, now the Junior School and residence of the Head of School respectively. All three properties stand on land that was part of the original 19th century Glenrock estate.

Miss Dorothy Whitehead was appointed Headmistress in 1949, and steered the school through the 1950s, as her successor, Miss Merrilie Roberts, was to do during the 1960s. These two important post-war decades saw a significant amount of building and purchase of neighbouring properties, as well as changes in curriculum and the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme (six years of secondary school). The War Memorial Hall (since demolished), the TM Scott Science Block, the purchase of Raine House, Hillingdon (Preparatory School), Holmwood and The Octagon and the opening of the Fergusson Wing for Boarding all date from this period.

In 1973, Mrs Rowena Danziger was appointed Headmistress. During the three decades that Mrs Danziger ran the school, she fostered a balance between traditional aspects and the introduction of educational innovations in response to the changing times. Particular legacies of this period include the Merrilie Roberts Building housing the swimming pool and gymnasium, opened in 1976, and the Packer Theatre, opened in 1988, both built in response to the expanded sporting and co-curricular programs.

Mrs Robert-Smith became Headmistress of Ascham in 2006, as the school celebrated its 120th year. In her seven years as Headmistress, the school further expanded to include improvements to Hillingdon and Fiona, and the purchase of neighbouring Duntrim on Darling Point Road. There was also a change to the summer uniform, a new look Charivari, and a name change of Form groups to Years. Ascham also celebrated a number of notable anniversaries including the Centenary since the school occupied Glenrock, the 110th anniversary of the OGU in 2009, the 125th anniversary of Ascham in 2011, and 125 years of boarding in 2012. 

In 2013, Dr Helen Wright became Ascham's tenth Head, in charge of almost 1,100 students. 

In 2013 a new Vision for the School, with a particular focus on developing the 'whole girl', was established after broad consultation with the Ascham community. Ascham's Council and Dr Wright implemented a number of important initiatives in pursuit of that vision, strengthening Dalton and positioning Ascham at the forefront of girls' education. These initiatives are continuing under the leadership of the new Head of School, Mr Andrew Powell, who has been at Ascham for 21 years, most recently as Deputy Head.

Mr Powell was appointed as Head of School in January 2014. His focus is on developing students and learners and as individuals, whilst enhancing teacher excellence.