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More than 100 years ago, Katherine Delmar Burke founded her school to fill an obvious need: young women who wanted to be educated enough to attend college faced often-insurmountable barriers. Schools like Burke’s, founded by a remarkable generation of women, provided what their daughters and granddaughters needed in order to rise to positions of responsibility.

The women who founded schools for girls were beginning a process of education that would, before the end of the century, lead to something like a level playing field in business, sports, and the arts. In the case of Miss Burke, a determined effort was made to ascertain what would be necessary for her graduates to enter the colleges open to them. At a time when “finishing schools” were the norm, Miss Burke was an innovator of the most important kind.

Katherine Delmar Burke’s original vision informs the school of today – a school that continues to value the ways girls learn. Burke’s commitment to the individual girl, its emphasis on developing confidence and responsibility, and its balance of tradition and innovation place it at the forefront of girls’ schools across the country.


  • 1908: Katherine Delmar Burke School (or Miss Burke's School) is founded in Pacific Heights
  • 1912: First graduating class at Miss Burke’s; school accredited by University of California
  • 1914: Middy and blue skirt adopted as school uniform for Upper School
  • 1920: Barbara Burke appointed assistant to Katherine Delmar Burke
  • 1926: First Pansy Day
  • 1929: Katherine Delmar Burke dies in Egypt; Barbara Burke becomes Head of School
  • 1929-30: Acquisition of property in Sea Cliff
  • 1931: First October Festival
  • 1936: First new building completed on Sea Cliff campus for nursery school and kindergarten
  • 1945: Katherine Delmar Burke School is established as a nonprofit corporation
  • 1949: The Lower School is established at the Sea Cliff campus; the plaid jumper is adopted as school uniform for the Lower School
  • 1960: Barbara Burke retires; Olive Balcom becomes head; Alumnae Association founded
  • 1970: David Fleishhacker becomes Head of School
  • 1975: The high school closes its doors; all operations move to Sea Cliff
  • 1982: Burke’s is the first local independent school to provide a comprehensive after-school program
  • 1995: Jessie-Lea Abbott becomes Head of School
  • 2008: Burke’s celebrates its Centennial; Second Century campus renovation completed; Kim Wargo becomes Head of School
  • 2011: Lila Lohr is appointed Interim Head of School for 2011-2012 school year
  • 2012: Michele Williams becomes Head of School
  • 2014: Burke's launches its four-year strategic plan: Our Community. Our Campus. Our Commitment.
  • 2017: Pants added to uniform code for both Lower and Upper School students
  • 2018: Burke's embarks on its newest capital campaign: Many Voices. Many Hands. All Burke's.
-Excerpted from All Hail With Joyous Voices: A Century at Burke’s by David Fleishhacker

House of Dreams

For many of our alumnae, the campus that they think of as Burke's is not our current location in Sea Cliff, but the building that sits at 3065 Jackson Street in Pacific Heights. Katherine Delmar Burke herself worked with renowned architect Julia Morgan early in her career to construct the building that would serve as her school until 1975. That was the year that, due to declining enrollments, Burke's closed its high school and moved everything out to the existing Lower School campus at California Street and 32nd Avenue. University High School took over "The House of Dreams" in 1975, and for the building's 100th anniversary in 2018, published this story about its history.
Katherine Delmar Burke (1867-1929) came from a long line of teachers, including an aunt, Kate Kennedy, who was a renowned public school teacher and the namesake of the Kate Kennedy School in San Francisco. She began tutoring both adults and children for 25 cents an hour while she was still attending Girls’ High School, and later became a faculty member at Miss Murison’s School. In 1908, she began teaching her own class in a rental at Steiner and Pacific Avenues in Pacific Heights. There were eight girls in her inaugural class, later called the “Charter Children.” This was the beginning of Katherine Delmar Burke School.
Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.
Burke's admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.