Mary Kassab, a pioneering woman and schoolteacher, founded the school in 1916, during World War I, at a time when some missionary schools in the city closed down. She initially named it, the Syrian National School. The school attracted a good number of girls from Beirut whose parents were waiting for such an opportunity. Few years later, with the support of teachers who volunteered part of their work time, her family and the community at large, the school was able to purchase the present downtown campus. The school’s initial success brought big support from citizens and dignitaries from all over the country, the Arab world and the diaspora. A boarding section was opened and a scholarship fund was raised. The great support from “Ahl al Madrasa, ahl al talabah, ahl al balad wa ahl al mantaqa” gave it the name Ahliah!
The school was established as an independent, not-for-profit school, with a self-sustainable Board of Trustees (BoT), chaired by Iskandar Khury, a renowned banker, supported by Bulous Khauli, Professor and founding Chair of the Department of Education at the American University of Beirut (AUB). A number of educators and prominent citizens volunteered to serve on the BoT such as Anis Makdissi and Aziz Kassab. A board, without design, turned out to be representative of the population mixes of the country.
The school became Al Ahliah Girls School and its boarding section brought students from different parts of the country with students from Beirut, growing up together in a diverse environment. This enhanced national cohesion. Ahliah was the first school in the Arab world to embrace then, the newly established international scouting movement to foster leadership, service to the community and cooperation with other world institutions. Alice Abkarios a teacher at Ahliah was the first to translate into Arabic the scouting rules. Ahliah was a pioneering national school that educated young women and started them on the road to emancipation. The school educated the person as a whole and produced committed and active citizens.
Among the donors who supported Ahliah at that time were :Some of Ahliah’s teachers; King Faysal 1 of Iraq; Doctor Bayard Dodge, President of the American University of Beirut; Ahmad Amin Bey, Prime Minister of Syria; Sheikh Taj El-Din Al Hussayni, Head of the Syrian State; Mrs Nazira Jumblat; Jibran Khalil Jibran; Amin Al-Rihani; May Ziadeh; Emir Said Al-Jazayri; Bishop Raphael Nimr; The Sacred Heart Association; The Young Muslim Association; Doctor Youssef Hitti; Bishop Boulos Khoury; Aziz Shukri & George Kassab; Doctor Fares Nimr; and many others.