St. Mary's College of Maryland came into existence (on paper only) by an act of the Maryland State Board of Higher Education in 1966. The first bachelor’s (B.A.) degrees were awarded in 1971.
The predecessor institution was St. Mary's Seminary Junior College (1949–1968), in turn preceded by St. Mary's Female Seminary Junior College (1927–1949). Both of these "junior colleges" combined the last two years of high school and the first two years of college, making it a four-year institution. After earning an associate's degree (A.A.) at St. Mary's girls would often continue studies at another university, where they would study for two more years and receive a B.A.
The original St. Mary's Female Seminary was founded by an act of the Maryland legislature in 1840. In 1840, the word "seminary" meant only that it was an academy or a high school, not a religious institution. St. Mary's was established by the legislature to be strictly non-denominational. It was a boarding school that included the elementary grades as well as grades 9-12, though education did not go beyond the 12th grade. Occasionally boys from the neighboring areas were allowed to take classes.
The institution was named after St. Mary's City, the colonial site of Lord Baltimore's experiment in religious tolerance. The institution was built upon land that once had been inhabited by the colonists two hundred years before.
For roughly the first 100 years (1840-1937) of its existence, the head of St. Mary's was called the "principal". When the school received accreditation as a junior college and included within the Maryland state budget in 1937, the term "principal" was changed to "president".
In 2010, Joseph Urgo became the institution's president.
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