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. Since these early beginnings, the College has kept abreast of educational and social needs, and developed its facilities accordingly. Many of the College’s former Members hold important positions in many locations around the world.
The College is named after St 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 III 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 Scotland and was known for her charity and work for the poor. Margaret died in 1093 and was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1251. Pope Clement X made her patroness of Scotland. As charitable people of Scottish ancestry founded the College, it is easy to see why they named the College after St Margaret.
St Margaret’s College is one of five independent colleges for University of Otago students. The remaining ten colleges are owned and operated by the University of Otago. St Margaret’s is formally affiliated with the University.
The motto of the College is "altiora in votis", which can be translated as "set your heart on higher things.”