Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: Pioneering Women’s Education in Indiana

Saint Mary of the Woods College (SMWC) has the distinction of being the oldest Catholic women’s college in the United States. With almost 170 years of high level post-secondary education, Saint Mary of the Woods College is part of the pantheon of great Catholic schools in Indiana, a list which includes such venerable institutions as the University of Notre Dame and the University of Saint Francis. SMWC is a liberal arts school that is on the list of the 25 largest Indiana colleges and universities. With a total enrollment of roughly 1,700 students, including on campus students and distance learning students, Saint Mary of the Woods ranks 24th on the list, ahead of Christian Theological Seminary and behind Goshen College.

Campus Life and History

Saint Mary of the Woods College is located in the small town that was built around the school, Saint Mary of the Woods, Indiana. The town is just five miles away from the bustling variety of Terre Haute, Indiana, which is also the home of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Indiana State University. Terre Haute is a lively place, full of culture, art, and music, even rivaling some of the finest Indianapolis attractions. There are tons of things to do in Terre Haute, including art galleries, museums, musical groups, a planetarium, and many well groomed Indiana golf courses. If you’ve maxed out your Indianapolis things to do list, Terre Haute might be a good place to go.

If Terre Haute isn’t enough for Saint Mary of the Woods students, the largest city in Indiana, Indianapolis, is just an hour and a half away. A trip to downtown Indianapolis is a great option for busy students looking to get away from it all. There are tons of Indianapolis theaters and performing arts venues, Indianapolis fairs and festivals, and Indianapolis events in the city, so students will never get bored. Saint Mary of the Woods is at the perfect location in Indiana, positioned right between two centerpieces of Indiana entertainment.

Video of madrigal singers at Saint Mary of the Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana


Students at Saint Mary of the Woods College live most of their academic life in the major residence hall on campus, Le Fer Hall. The hall is named after two of the founding Sisters of the school, and looks almost like a French Renaissance castle. Dorm rooms get tons of light, feature hardwood floors, and foster a community of believers and students. Le Fer Hall also includes many amenities you won’t see in Indianapolis real estate, including a modern exercise center, a ballroom for dancing and events, a student center with couches and flat screen TV’s, free breakfast every morning, and quiet study rooms. While at Saint Mary of the Woods College, students can live in comfort, fellowship, and spiritual security.

Many on-campus activities take place in La Fer Hall, but the rest of the campus is also a hotbed for student life. As a matter of fact, the whole campus is usually alive with student organizations, upcoming events, and social clubs. Saint Mary of the Woods College encourages each student to explore their own personal potential, and many students take active leadership roles in campus organizations.

Video tour of the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary of the Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana


Student groups include Aurora, a literary magazine that publishes rising stars in fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction and prepares students for careers in Indianapolis media; College Council, the main student legislative body of the school, Discovery Club, a science based community group; and Math Club, a group that participates in fun mathematics based activities. There’s an extracurricular activity for everyone at Saint Mary of the Woods College.

In addition to ongoing activities, the Saint Mary of the Woods College campus offers lots of natural and artistic beauty as well. There are several grottoes, nature conservatories, and quiet spots on campus for students to sit, rest, and take in the pastoral peace of nature. These secluded nature areas are similar to the Oldfields gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The school also has several student centers, a field for the softball and soccer teams, a tranquil shrine, and several dining facilities.

Video tour of the many green initiatives at Saint Mary of the Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana


Since Saint Mary of the Woods College is a Catholic institution, it strives to put the tenets of Catholicism into everyday practice. It seeks to instill the values of love, justice, and mercy in all its students and does so through a variety of different programs. The school sponsors on and off campus community service programs, liturgy services, retreats, and Catholicism classes, all of which foster spiritual development in students and faculty alike. In addition, the school is also home to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a large, regal structure that rivals the architecture of Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis. Here, worshipers come for weekly services, and it is the centerpiece of the spiritual life of Saint Mary of the Woods College.


Saint Mary of the Woods College has pioneered many firsts in its long history. It was founded in 1840 by a collection of six Sisters of Providence from a village in France who traveled to Indiana with the intention of starting a college for women. In 1846, SMWC became the first accredited women’s college in the state of Indiana. As if that weren’t enough, the school was also the first to offer undergraduate courses in journalism to women, and it was the first women’s college with degrees in secondary education, home economics, and secretarial skills. As women’s roles in the workplace have expanded, so too have the professional programs at Saint Mary of the Woods College.

On campus at Saint Mary of the Woods College, academics are divided into nine distinct departments: Business, Art & Media, Education, Equine Studies, Graduate Studies, Languages & Literature, Music & Theatre, Science & Mathematics, Social & Behavioral Sciences, and Theology & Philosophy. Within these departments, the school trains students in almost seventy different majors, including Computer Information Systems, Pre-Professional Studies, Business Administration (preparing the next generation of Indianapolis business leaders), Medical Technology, and many more.

Students can expect a personal touch at Saint Mary of the Woods College: on campus enrollment is just above 300, and the student to faculty ratio is an astonishing 12 to 1. Their commitment to an excellent education hasn’t gone unrecognized, because the school has won awards from the Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report.

Residential degrees at the Saint Mary of the Woods main campus are only offered to women. However, while Saint Mary of the Woods has over 1,700 total students enrolled in all its programs, only 300 are on campus students. The bulk of Saint Mary of the Woods students are enrolled in distance learning programs, which are offered to both men and women.

Indeed, the college has a long history of distance education, almost as long as that at the University of Phoenix. The college unveiled the External Women’s Study Program in 1973, and it was one the first independent study programs in the nation. Originally, the program was only offered to women in keeping with the founding mission of the college, but in 2005 the program expanded to include men as well.

Video about the Distance and Online Learning Program at St. Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana


The newly renamed Woods External Degree Program is a highly flexible, adult-oriented education experience. The program features over 30 majors, including Creative Writing, Human Services, Paralegal Studies, and many more. With the WED program, students can choose when they study, what they study, and how they study. Students can attend introduction seminars on campus and enjoy support from professors and administrators at the school. In addition, Saint Mary of the Woods College also offers the “2+2 Transfer Agreement” with Ivy Tech Community College. Students can complete the first two years of their degree at Ivy Tech, the largest statewide community college in the state, and then complete the rest of it either on campus at SMWC or through distance learning. It’s a convenient way to split up your education and experience many different environments and teaching styles.


In addition to a strong academic presence, Saint Mary of the Woods College also fields a few select athletic teams. Since their on campus enrollment is so small in comparison to other Indiana colleges, the school has only five athletic teams: basketball, equestrian, golf, soccer, and softball. The school is part of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA), a group similar to the NCAA that caters to smaller schools like Saint Mary of the Woods. The USCAA also includes the Northwest branch of Indiana University, Philander Smith College, Rochester College, Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Walla Walla University, and many others.

The Saint Mary of the Woods College Equestrian team takes full advantage of the Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies on campus and puts on a show that you likely won’t see anywhere in Indianapolis sports. The team travels to about twenty shows each season, and they exhibit both their Western and English riding skills. Last year, the team participated in shows at Purdue University, Taylor University, and even a school in Texas. The golf team at SMWC is relatively new, since it was founded in 2008. The team currently does not have a full roster, but will play several invitational tournaments in 2009.

The Saint Mary of the Woods College soccer team has been around for nine years and have racked up some major accomplishments in that time. The Pomeroys are one of the most spirited teams you’ll find in the USCAA. Throughout the years, they have had three players selected as USCAA All-Americans, three more as USCAA Academic All-Americans, and several victories against small and large schools alike. Last year, however, the school didn’t perform very well; in the first eleven games, they posted a 1-10 record with losses to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Bethel College, Earlham College, and a win against Saint Catharine College. However, in the final four games of the season they went on a three game win streak before losing in the final match to Oakland City University.

Pioneering Women’s Education in Indiana

All in all, Saint Mary of the Woods College is an excellent place to spend four years. It is located near Terre Haute and Indianapolis, both of which offer excellent entertainment options. The campus itself is scenic and peaceful, with a low residency population. Since there are only 300 students on campus, students get to know each other and build relationships that will last a lifetime. Student organizations and clubs are always accepting new members and leaders, so there’s always something to do on campus.

In addition, the school has been a pioneer in education for both sexes, offering excellent undergraduate resident programs for women and one of the first distance education programs in the country. The school’s athletic programs may be small, but they have a focus on building teamwork and community. They are a burgeoning group that is likely to excel in future seasons. Saint Mary of the Woods College has been a pioneer for 170 years; it’s likely they’ll continue to blaze a trail into the future.

For more information on Saint Mary of the Woods College, please visit their homepage.

Saint Mary of the Woods College
Saint Mary of the Woods, IN 47876

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