Mission and History

St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s opened its doors in 1950, born from some of the same idealistic dreams and unjust realities that catalyzed the civil rights movement a few years later. Our founder, The Reverend Mother Ruth, and her Episcopal sisters in the Community of the Holy Spirit, envisioned St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s as a school that would reflect the diversity of New York City. This school would unite children and families from all backgrounds to learn from one another, about one another, and therefore would tear down the walls and divisions that separated people of different cultures, creeds, and classes from one another and, she believed, from their God.

For us to find a place like this, a school, which opened its arms to us as a place for a great education and an environment in which people were accepted just as they are, is something I shall never forget. I believe that St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s still represents that core value.” The Rev. Buddy Stallings, Alumni Parent


St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s is an independent, Episcopal day school. The school is coeducational and includes Beginners (age 2) through grade 8. As an Episcopal school, we are committed to nurturing the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Religious and ethical formation are therefore important components. We strive to create an educational community that reflects unity in diversity: a unity of purpose and shared values among a population diverse in race, culture, and religious beliefs. The rich variety of gifts within the school community, provided by the different backgrounds of students, faculty, staff, and parents, prepares students to understand and contribute to a diverse, changing world.

Our philosophy of education is rooted in the values of the Judeo-Christian humanist tradition. We believe that all creation is sacred; each member of the school community is respected as a unique individual. We recognize the different ways in which students learn and acknowledge their developmental differences. Our teachers provide flexibility within the classroom structure so that students can both achieve their potential and meet our academic expectations.

Our belief in the sacredness of creation is also taught through a traditional liberal arts curriculum, which encourages in students a respect for nature and human achievement, as well as a love of art, music, drama, and athletics. Religious knowledge classes and corporate worship create an environment in which the developing child may find satisfying ways of defining his or her spiritual identity and creative gifts. Formal Chapel services are conducted in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer. Students learn to define themselves as unique sources of creativity and to value their contributions to the well-being of the group. The delight students discover in sharing their own gifts within the school community prepares them for serving in the world.

The school was founded in 1950 by the Reverend Mother Ruth and the Community of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopal religious order for women. As required by its statutes, the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees is a bishop or priest of the Episcopal Church.

Our Revolutionary Founder

A black and white photograph of Mother Ruth with children in 1952 at St. Hilda's in New York City.

Mother Ruth was a biracial nun from Harlem. Due to her racial heritage, she faced rejection when pursuing her vocation in the United States. She went north to Canada, where she became a nun and earned a degree from St. Hilda's College, University of Toronto. She later earned a master's degree and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.


When she returned to New York, she founded the Community of the Holy Spirit and then, with help from the Rt. Rev. Horace W.B. Donegan, Bishop of New York, and other influential New Yorkers, she founded St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s.


Mother Ruth was determined to build a school that reflected the rich diversity of its city, where children could learn from one another and about one another. She believed that a multicultural school community would have the power to change the misconceptions and fears that divide people from one another.


Children’s spiritual and moral development, along with their intellectual and physical growth, was among Mother Ruth’s primary concerns. She founded St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s as an Episcopal school, but it was never her desire to evangelize or convert her students.


“I hope,” she said once, “that an Episcopalian who attends our school becomes a better Episcopalian, a Jewish child a better Jew, and an agnostic a better agnostic.”