Skip to content

Brief History of the College

The Beginnings

As one of the oldest residential colleges in New Zealand, St Margaret's has a long and proud history. By 1911, the Anglican and Presbyterian Churches had established colleges for male students at the University of Otago but no accommodation was available for women. Identifying this need, a group of Presbyterian women established St Margaret’s College "for the glory of God and the promotion of His Kingdom, the advancement of sound learning and the care and protection of women students." The College housed some of the first New Zealand women university students. In 1981, the College became co-educational.

The Name

The College is named after Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland. Born c.1047, she was the daughter of a Hungarian Princess and an English Prince. In 1070, Margaret married Malcolm III King of Scotland. Malcolm killed Macbeth to regain the Scottish throne for his family after Macbeth had killed Malcolm’s father, Duncan, to take the throne.

Under the guidance of Lanfranc, a Benedictine monk who was Archbishop of Canterbury, Margaret reformed the church in and was known for her charity and work for the poor. Tradition has it that she took Malcolm to and she and Malcolm rebuilt Columba’s monastery. Margaret died in 1093 and was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1251. Pope Clement X made her patroness of Scotland. Her original feast day of June 10th was changed to November 15th. As charitable people of Scottish ancestry founded the College, it is easy to see why they named the College after Saint Margaret.

The Crest

St Margaret's College Crest

Saint Margaret lived before the age of heraldry, but emblems were assigned to her after her death. The College crest is based on her crest. The main emblems: a cross-surrounded by five martlets, were emblems of Edward the Confessor whose court she belonged to from the age of 12 up until the Norman Conquest in 1066. The top section of the crest is a depiction of the castle at Edinburgh, which is known as a "chief.” An institution that wants to use a royal symbol must add a chief to avoid confusion, and the chief should symbolise the institution. Due to Dunedin's close ties with Edinburgh, the castle was chosen. A lozenge shape was adopted instead of a shield, as this was considered more suitable for a women’s College.

The Motto

The motto of the College is "altiora in votis" which can be translated as "set your heart on higher things.” The motto was in use for a long time before the crest was adopted.

Independent College

St Margaret’s College is one of four independent colleges for University of Otago students. The remaining eleven colleges are owned and operated by the University of Otago. St Margaret’s is formally affiliated with the University.

The Present

Over the years, the College has kept abreast of educational and social needs and its facilities are excellent. Through a building and renovation programme, the College has 224 rooms, 104 in the Main Wing, 76 in Clyde Wing, 32 in Wilson Wing and 12 in Clyde and Thorpe Houses. We also have two College guestrooms equipped for academics and visitors

As a College, rather than a hostel or a boarding house or a hall of residence, we place great emphasis on community living and developing the whole person. Certainly, the physical needs of our Members receive ample attention (for example, comfortable and warm rooms, good bathrooms, study and common spaces, great food – hot breakfasts every day) but we also offer many opportunities for Members to participate in a large variety of cultural, social and sport activities. And very importantly, we provide tutorials and mentors to support Members’ academic studies and their personal development.