St Margaret’s School is the oldest girls’ school in Singapore and the Far East. It was founded in 1842 by Mrs Maria Dyer, a missionary of the London Missionary Society. She was on her way to China in 1841 and while in Singapore, she saw a pitiful group of young Chinese girls on display for sale in the streets. This was ‘Mui Tsai’ or slavery, which so shocked and horrified her that she resolved to help these poor girls. She obtained permission from the Government to start a home for the homeless girls, regardless of race. In 1842, a tiny house in North Bridge Road became the home and the school of orphan girls who were taught the Christian faith and given an elementary education in English. Above all, the girls were taught how to be good homemakers.
The first Principal was Miss A Grant and for many years, this was the only girls’ school in Singapore. When Miss Sophia Cooke took charge in 1853, there were only 20 students, but the school was so highly reputed for its effective character building that many young men wrote to the school in search of suitable wives. Miss Cooke, who also founded the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), was a devoted and fervent Christian. She did much to raise the level of education in the school and her name is synonymous with St Margaret’s. During her term in 1861, the school moved to 134 Sophia Road and was named the Chinese Girls’ School.
Miss Gage-Brown, was Principal from 1897 to 1911. In 1900, the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS) took over the management in school and the school was renamed the CEZM School. Several other missionary principals served as principals after Miss Gage-Brown: Miss F. Abel (from 1911-1918), Miss Annie Tolley (1918-1925), Miss Ada Fearon (1925-1928), Miss Elsie Thackrah (1928-1930) and Miss Mabel Lane (1930-1938).
Miss Jessie Kilgour, Principal from 1938 to 1948, was a much-loved and respected figure in the school. She worked hard and successfully raised the standard of the school in both academic, work and games. The school became a government-aided school in 1939. After the Second World War, the school was renamed St Margaret’s School by the Bishop Leonard Wilson, after Queen Margaret of Scotland.
Miss Norah Inge became Principal in 1948 and many new changes were introduced. Domestic Science became part of the school curriculum, a netball team was formed and a Girl Guide Company was incorporated. It was Miss Inge who first conceived the idea of building a separate secondary school.
1957 saw the late Mrs Martha Holloway as the new Principal and after much planning and hard work, the secondary school was built at Farrer Road. The Secondary and Primary Schools were separated in 1960. Mrs Holloway became Principal of the Secondary School and Mrs Gertrude Song, a former student of St Margaret’s, became Principal of the Primary School. Several principals have since helmed the school after Mrs Gertrude Song: Mrs Mary Cassim (from 1966-1987), Miss May Chew (1987-2003), Mrs Elsie Poey (2004-2012), Miss Pang Wee Mian (2012-2018). In 2019, Mrs Ko-Tan Li Ling was appointed as the Principal.
The familiar old building at 134 Sophia Road which continued to house the Primary School in the 1960s was demolished in August 1984. In its place was a larger school, built to house future generations of St Margaret’s School (Primary) girls. The school occupied a holding school in Anthony Road while awaiting the completion of the new building. The move back to the old site came in June 1986, with a new address – 99 Wilkie Road. The school was marked as a National Historic Site by the National Heritage Board in 1997.
In 2000, the school underwent PRIME – Programme for the Rebuilding and Improvement of Existing Schools – on site. Upgrading works were completed in June 2002. Two new blocks, enlarged classrooms and added facilities provided for enhanced teaching and learning. In 2020, the school moved to Mattar Road so that MOE’s PERI (Primary Education Review and Implementation) upgrading works could take place at the Wilkie Road site.
Founded in the spirit of charity, patience and devotion (school motto), our school, with a record of helpfulness good works and dedicated service, is well loved by all who have passed out of her gates and will be loved and honoured by those yet to come. This is our heritage – a girls’ school with a fine tradition of service to our neighbours, our community and our nation, a tradition we can justly be proud of.
Singapore Women’s Hall of fame
St. Margaret’s School was founded by Mrs Maria Dyer in 1842, making it the oldest school in Singapore and the Far East. Maria Dyer was a young missionary of the London Missionary Society. She was inducted to the Singapore Women’s Hall of fame in 2014 under the category of Education. The school was then known as Chinese Girls’ School and it was located in a shophouse at North Bridge Road.
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