Buffalo Seminary

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The Buffalo Seminary
205 Bidwell Parkway, Buffalo, NY
Type private, all-girls
Established 1851
Songs Alma Mater and Jerusalem
Head of School Helen Ladds Marlette
Number of students 221
School color(s) Red and White
Mascot Red-Tailed Hawk

Buffalo Seminary (SEM) is an independent, private, college preparatory day and boarding school for girls in Buffalo, New York, United States. SEM is nonsectarian and non-uniform.

Accreditations and Memberships[edit]

SEM is an accredited member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), the Small Boarding School Association (SBSA), the National Coalition of Girls' Schools (NCGS) and Online School for Girls (OSG). As an independent school, SEM is not confined by the guidelines established by the New York State Board of Regents.


Founded in 1851, SEM is Western New York’s oldest college preparatory school for girls; in all of New York State, including New York City, only one girls' school is older. The school was originally named The Buffalo Female Academy and has maintained all-female attendance. Its original, unflagging and prescient mission was to provide an exceptional education for young women, to prepare them to engage productively with the world. Originally, it offered education for young girls from kindergarten through sophomore year in college and had boarding. In 1889, the school adopted its current name, Buffalo Seminary. Graduates of SEM founded the Twentieth Century Club in the late 1800s.[1] one of the oldest private women's clubs in the United States. The school changed its policy in 1899 to teach only grades 9 through 12 after merging with the Elmwood School. In 1908, the school moved from its initial founding address on Johnson Park to the current address on Bidwell Parkway. That building, completed the following year, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.[2] In 2008 SEM added back its boarding program which has now expanded into a campus of five renovated historic homes next door to the school building, staffed by faculty "parents." In 2016-17 American girls and girls from Argentina, China, France, Germany and Korea reside in the houses.


SEM's school building is located at 205 Bidwell Parkway. It was designed by Boston architect George F. Newton, who also designed the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. It was completed in 1909, in the Tudor Revival style, the school's building features buttresses, terra cotta sculptures, Gothic style arches, and limestone ornamentation. The interior of the building features a library with a fireplace, traditional chapel for all school gatherings (while called "chapel," it is more an auditorium - the school is not religious and never has been), numerous Harkness table classrooms, skylit art studio, science labs and technology labs with a digital printer and two NAO robots. A contemporary Performing Arts Center (black box theater), MAC lab, darkroom, squash courts, (new) courtyard, and a fitness and erg room ensure an outstanding school experience. Additionally, the building features the West-Chester Hall, now used for meetings and classes. SEM's campus includes five historic homes renovated for the head of school and student residences, and Larkin Field at 101 Lincoln Parkway Larkin Field where SEM's Red-Tailed Hawks play soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. SEM launched a capital campaign "Remarkable Opportunities - Campaign for SEM" in the spring of 2015 which when it closed June 30, 2016 with gift commitments of $9.2 million, surpassing its goal of $8.5 million. One of the stated goals was to build the Magavern-Sutton Courtyard to connect the five SEM student and faculty houses with the school building. The private courtyard opens for the 2016-17 school year.[3] It is located in the Elmwood Historic District–East.


The Buffalo Seminary Red-Tailed Hawks are part of the Monsignor Martin Girls Athletic Association (MMA). The students compete with other schools in the league as well as other local and regional high schools in various sports. The school offers three seasons of sports in which the girls may participate at either the Varsity and Junior Varsity level. They range from bowling and golf to basketball, soccer, swimming, field hockey, lacrosse, squash, sailing, and crew. Notably, SEM regularly sends boats to the US National Scholastic Rowing Championships in Camden, NJ and the Head of Charles in Boston. 2015 was a banner year for SEM teams: SEM Squash won the US Squash Division V Championship; SEM Bowling won the MMA Championship; SEM Tennis was the undefeated winner of the MMA Division ll Championship, won the MMA Doubles Championship, and came in 2d and 3d in the MMA singles championship. In the winter of 2016 SEM won its division again at the US Squash nationals and in the spring won the MMA tennis championship in singles and doubles. In the fall of 2016 SEM won the MMA soccer championship (B class) and the winter of 2017 won the US Squash Division V Championship for a third time.

The teams are named the Red-Tailed Hawks for a bird commonly spotted in Western New York, and soaring over SEM's athletic field, Larkin Field.


Honor Code: "One choice. Honor. Three advantages: respect, integrity and trust." Each student, faculty and staff member literally signs this Academic and Social Honor Code at the beginning of the school year. The Code is then prominently set upon an easel for all to see throughout the year. Academic honor requires respect for intellectual and artistic property. “I pledge my honor that I have neither given nor received assistance,” is written and signed by students on all class tests, papers, examinations, and other work which a faculty member designates as an honor assignment. Social Honor requires consideration for others, honesty in all matters, courtesy, and respect for differences.

Harkness Learning: SEM has six Harkness classrooms used primarily by the English and history departments. These classrooms are centered on a Harkness table - a large, wood, oval table where which students gather around to learn collaboratively. At a Harkness table teachers facilitate and mediate topics and discussion, no student is not seen, and everyone has the duty and opportunity to speak.

Morning Meeting: Every morning the entire school assembles for "morning meeting." While other high schools may begin their day with an assigned homeroom for students, at SEM, all students gather in the chapel first. Morning meeting is led by the president of the Student Government Association, and typically opens with the entire student and faculty body singing SEM's alma mater or the anthem "Jerusalem." Announcements and awards are then made by students and faculty. Throughout the year, senior class students make their formal, required "Senior Presentation," at morning meeting - they are often accompanied by media or a live musical performance.

Hornet/Jacket: One of the school's prominent school life traditions is the Hornet and Jacket competition. It originates from a time, over one hundred years ago, when girls were forbidden to participate in organized sports. The students of SEM organized themselves into these two teams so girls could compete amicably. Today, after admission to the school students are sorted into either team on the festival-like Hornet/Jacket Day . Faculty too is either Hornet or Jacket. Family members are what their first SEM student was - it is a legacy. Sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers are always the same team. Throughout the year, academic, and festive (often holiday themed) contests are held and the teams compete against the other. Points are accrued and awarded to the winning team, and at the close of the school year, the points are tallied, and the winning team is engraved into the "Cup."

Graduation: SEM graduates its seniors at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Graduates wear long, white dresses and carry bouquets of long-stemmed red roses. The graduation speaker is always a SEM alumna. It 2014 it was Nicole C. Lee '94, a human rights lawyer and immediate past president of the venerable nonprofit TransAfrica, she was also its first female president.

Notable alumnae[edit]

Cultural References[edit]

In City of Light by Lauren Belfer, a novel exploring the cultural mores of old Buffalo wealth, Buffalo Seminary serves as inspiration for the Macaulay School for Girls, of which the main character is headmistress. Lauren Belfer is herself a graduate of the SEM.

See also[edit]


On the path between the student residences and Buffalo Seminary

See also[edit]


4. "From Johnson Park to Bidwell Parkway and Beyond: A Short History of Buffalo Seminary" by Gwen Ito. Western New York Heritage Magazine.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°55′28.041″N 78°52′30.04″W / 42.92445583°N 78.8750111°W / 42.92445583; -78.8750111