Over 100 Years of Girl Empowerment at The Ellis School

For some, the dialogue about female empowerment is new, but at The Ellis School, generations of girls have been empowered. The Ellis School is Pittsburgh’s only age 3 to grade 12 independent school dedicated to the education of girls. For over 100 years, Ellis girls have been educated in a nurturing environment designed specifically to instill leadership, confidence, and resourcefulness.

The mission of The Ellis School is to prepare, empower, and inspire each and every girl through an excellent education in an all-girls environment.

I recently had the pleasure of touring The Ellis School, located in Pittsburgh’s East End. With 390 total student enrollment, the feel of the campus is prestigious, yet intimate and personal. Stepping onto the secured campus at Ellis reminded me of stepping onto a small, private North Eastern college. The buildings are organized by grade level or function and are situated around a central grassy courtyard.


From its inception, The Ellis School educated girls to prepare them for the rigors of college and university. Throughout its rich history, The Ellis School emphasized creative arts, performance arts, languages, and sciences.

The very first students took courses in chemistry, physics, history, Latin, French, English, mathematics, and art history. These subjects remain the core of the robust curriculum today. As I walked the hallways and peeked into classrooms filled with no more than 12-15 students a piece, I didn’t seen any passive learning via a traditional teacher-lecturer in the front of a classroom. Instead, I saw girls working together in groups, students leading the classroom while writing on whiteboards, girls in front of flat screen monitors, and students applying physics in a robotics lab (pictured below). The award-winning faculty took the time to walk me through many classrooms and explain the girls’ studies.

Ellis girls don’t just absorb the material they learn in school, they synthesize, competently apply it to sophisticated issues, and exhibit it throughout their entire lives. By developing character and academic stamina through hands-on, cross-disciplinary learning, students garner a meaningful understanding of educational material via relevant, real-world applications.
At the high school level, The Ellis School calls this Integrated Studies: an intentional, interwoven enrichment across disciplines that inspires girls to connect with subject matter and recognize its usefulness in their world.

100% of its high school graduates go onto college. The Ellis School manages the college application process for its students, beginning in 10th grade, taking the stress of the process off of the students and parents. Each student is individually counseled on the selection and application process. College preparation courses, such as SAT prep are incorporated into the regular school day and into regular tuition. 


With four gymnasiums on campus, the physical is emphasized as much as the academics at The Ellis School. Although not required, 70% of the middle and high school students participate in sports, with field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, crew, track and field, and swimming being the girls’ favorites. In the fall of 2014, Ellis celebrated the grand opening a new state-of-the-art regulation-sized turf field. The field is a source of tremendous school pride, not just for athletes, but for every member of the community. 

For me, the new field was an example of how The Ellis School embraces change within an institution that has a rich tradition of excellence – an interplay of new and old done right. The field borders with new, modern housing in Pittsburgh’s tech-ignited Bakery Square neighborhood. Google’s white flag is visible above the condominiums’ rooftops. Like its educational program, the physical location of The Ellis School is perfectly positioned at the intersection of Pittsburgh tradition mixed with new growth for the future.

The Arts

The Ellis School‘s dedication to the arts, as while as technology, is readily apparent walking through campus. There’s a performance art theater, which hosts its student performances at every grade level, as well as a robust library that is equal parts cozy and functionally well-equipped with the latest computers for research. Each student is assigned an individual iPad or laptop, depending on age, as well as access to an entire campus of technical resources. An entire academic building for both the middle and upper schools is dedicated to the visual creative arts. The school boasts a working darkroom and photography space, two kilns and various pottery wheels in its clay studio, an industrial-sized vinyl cutter/heat press, which the girls operate themselves, and several creative maker spaces for every conceivable discipline of budding artist.

Students’ art projects from all levels can be found in throughout classrooms, in display cases, on the walls, tucked into stairwells, in the stain-glass windowed hallway, and even hanging from the cafeteria ceiling.

The Lower and Middle Schools

The values of The Ellis School transcend through all grade levels. Because of its campus that places all these ages together, there are unique opportunities for mentorship across grade levels. All levels share the common spaces, like the library, cafeteria, outdoor playgrounds, performance theater, and athletic facilities.

Inspired by the Harry Potter series and the houses of Hogwarts, [in middle school] students are split into four houses named after noteworthy Pittsburgh women—Rachel Carson, Mary Cassatt, Daisy Lampkin, and Nellie Bly. Students compete in a variety of challenges —from engineering a gingerbread house, coordinating a dance and lip-sync competition, participating in athletic challenges, or building and modeling a paper dress in a judged fashion show. 


I had wrongfully assumed that The Ellis School was only for certain city families. However, The Ellis School‘s demographics are varied. The students hail not only from the city and the Eastern suburbs, but from many surrounding neighborhoods. The school receives generous endowments in order to supplement many students’ tuition. 35% of the students receive financial aid. Minorities represent 38% of its student body. 

All-Girls Environment:

The benefits of an all-female environment are in rooted in solid research. The learning philosophy instills confidence and competence. 

A national study conducted by UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies showed that girls’ school graduates have a significant edge over their coeducational peers. “The UCLA study found that girls’ school graduates entering their first year of college consistently assess their self-confidence, engagement, ambition, and abilities across academic disciplines as stronger than those of their peers from coeducational schools.” Girls in girls-only schools don’t just feel better: they perform better. Girls’ school students study longer. They are more likely to pursue careers in engineering, to engage in political discussions, to keep current with political affairs, and to see college as a stepping stone to graduate school. 

In a recent article by the Head of School, Macon Finley, she answers her own question, what makes Ellis, Ellis?

She summarizes it as follows:

  • Every girl is known, and there is no one way to be an Ellis girl.
  • We challenge and cherish, support and stretch each girl.
  • We empower girls to develop into fearless, independent, critical thinkers with fierce voices.
  • We foster leadership, curiosity, and creativity.
  • We build a welcoming, kind community with deep relationships.
  • We cultivate joy and excitement in the journey of learning.
  • We do all of this better because we are an all-girls school.


Many students find their way to The Ellis School at preschool or kindergarten. Other families may seek an all-female environment for their middle school or high school daughter. However, enrollment is open for all grade levels and there are plenty of success stories of students entering Ellis at all various grade levels. The Ellis School encourages you to schedule a tour as part of the enrollment process to see if the school is right for your daughter. 

To schedule your visit call 412-668-5165, or click here to request more information. Believe me, you will be impressed. In conclusion, I wish you success as you make educational decisions for your family.

This sponsored post is brought to you in connection with our partnership with The Ellis School.
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Carissa Howard
Carissa Howard is a former litigator, Ivy League graduate, college athlete, wife, mom and writer. She grew up in the South Hills and attended law school at the University of Pittsburgh, living in Shadyside for several years. After six years on the West Coast, she moved back to Upper St. Clair with her husband and two kids in tow. Her posts cover many parenting and lifestyle topics from the quirks of having European in-laws (her husband grew up in Ireland) to questioning the usefulness of preschoolers playing organized sports to providing time management advice, usually with a solid dose of humor and honesty. She's also writing women's fiction novels and seeking that elusive literary agent to represent her and her manuscripts. Carissa is a regular contributor on the Huffington Post and blogs on her own personal site Shopping for Time. You can keep in touch with her on twitter and Facebook.