Originally named The Young Ladies' Seminary at Ferry Hall, the school was founded in 1869. In its first year of existence, Ferry Hall enrolled 66 students, 37 of whom boarded at the school. Ferry Hall was no mere finishing school; it provided a liberal arts education for women, including uncommonly taught subjects, such as science and mathematics. The Presbyterian influence on the school was noticeable in the form of mandatory chapel, strict visitation rules (particularly for men), and rare opportunities to leave the campus.
The Seminary was well-known for the support of social justice and missionary work, and became noticeable for inviting such figures as Eugene V. Debs to campus.
In 1918, Eloise Ruthven Tremain took over as headmistress of the Seminary. Under Tremain's leadership, the Seminary entered a period of notable organization and financial success, continually running surpluses. Tremain brought Ferry Hall to the forefront of American schools for girls, garnering national attention. Tremain also engineered the Seminary's legal and financial independence in 1925 from Lake Forest University, to which it had formerly been tied.
Following Tremain's departure in 1945, the school slipped into financially hard times. Enrollment, which had been filled to capacity during World War II, dropped off significantly. Ferry Hall's trustees stepped in and organized a major capital campaign that was intended to retire the mortgage still owed to Lake Forest College, eventually succeeding in the early 1950s.
In 1945, Frances Wallace became principal of Ferry Hall, a position she held until Robert Andrus took over in 1957. A new era of increased contact between Ferry Hall and Lake Forest Academy would now begin.
In 1963, Ferry Hall reached its highest enrollment in the school’s history (177 female students). Conversations began between students and administrators at both Ferry Hall and LFA to improve and deepen relations between the two schools. Informal mixers every two weeks, joint Sunday vespers and dinner, and girls’ attendance at Academy lectures set the stage for the eventual merger of the two schools.
A new headmaster took the helm at Ferry Hall in 1970: John A. Bird. Bird replaced retiring Headmistress Marian Smith (1965-1970). During his tenure, the school advanced toward coeducation with LFA. In the spring 1974, the last class graduated from Ferry Hall. In the fall, Ferry Hall students joined Academy boys at their Mellody Farms campus and created the current coeducational institution: Lake Forest Academy.