A History of the University of Saint Mary

and its long-standing tradition of excellence


The Saint Mary story begins with an unassuming frontier academy for young women in the mid-19th century. From its humble beginnings, USM has grown from boarding academy to a women’s junior college to what it is today: a fully accredited university with two on-ground locations, dozens of undergraduate programs, graduate degrees, online offerings, and, now, a doctorate level program.

The Sisters of Charity, the founders and sponsors of the University of Saint Mary, settled in Leavenworth, Kan., in 1858 longing for a location to serve the “wild frontier." Within days of their arrival in Kansas' first city, the sisters began teaching boys and girls in the area — a tradition that continues today.

A few months later, the sisters opened a boarding school for girls in downtown Leavenworth. Filled to capacity with women from Kansas, Missouri, and the territories that would later become the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah, the sisters moved St. Mary's Academy to the university’s current location in 1870.   

The academy thrived, and in 1923 the sisters established Saint Mary College, a junior college for women. In 1930 the college became a four-year institution.

While admitting men to most of its programs early on, the college did not become residentially co-ed until 1988.

In 1974, Saint Mary became the first four-year institution to offer degree completion in Kansas City, Kan. Formerly offering classes at Donnelly College, Saint Mary later moved its Wyandotte County hub to Providence Medical Center.

As part of an expansion plan to better serve the Kansas City metro area, Saint Mary opened the Overland Park Campus in 2000 Moved to its current location at 4500 College Blvd. in 2016, the Overland Park Campus is centrally located for easy access.

In July 2003, the college expanded to meet the growing demands of the 21st century student, and became the University of Saint Mary.

In 2012, USM reached another major milestone, launching its first doctorate program with the Stefani Doctor of Physical Therapy.

With decades of experience in adult education, the University of Saint Mary has gained a reputation for developing value-centered graduates who are strong decision-makers, problem-solvers, and business and community leaders. The university’s concept of applied liberal arts embraces the rich history and meaning of the liberal arts tradition, while intentionally connecting learning to the real world in concrete and practical ways.