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St Margaret’s College was founded in 1910 through the energy, faith and determination of Bishop (later Archbishop) Julius who convinced the Synod of the Diocese of Christchurch of the need to establish a school for girls to parallel that already set up for boys. The Sisters of the Kilburn Order in London were invited to set up the school and it opened at 28 Armagh Street with 50 pupils. Under the Sisters the school flourished and in 1913, with a roll of over 100, it moved into a new building on the corner of Cranmer Square and Chester Street West.

In 1931 when the Sisters had to leave their educational work in New Zealand, they handed over to the Diocese a school strong in numbers and rooted firmly in the traditions and tenets of the Anglican faith. The Diocese appointed Mrs Stephanie Grace Young MA (Oxon) as its first lay Headmistress and, in 1933, a Trust Board was set up to be responsible to the Diocese for the governance of the school. Its first Chairman was Bishop West-Watson, Bishop of Christchurch and later Primate of New Zealand.

Under Mrs Young’s outstanding leadership the College developed academically, culturally and with a widening range of sporting activities. Her deep personal faith had a lasting effect on the girls who passed through the school and she was responsible for establishing some of the important traditions that are still part of the life of the school today, especially the Founders’ Day service with its themes of dedication and its Ceremony of Lights. In 1949 with the roll at 425 Mrs Young retired to be succeeded by Miss Jean Crosher MSc (NZ). By now the school had long outgrown its Cranmer Square building and it was Miss Crosher who undertook the exciting and exacting task of moving the school to its present site and establishing suitable facilities, especially for the study of science and mathematics.

In 1964, Miss Molly Mullan (MA) was appointed Principal and during her tenure the roll increased and the curriculum widened. It was she who established the Japanese department and appointed the first full-time Chaplain to the school. Miss Mullan is also remembered for her boundless energy, her outstanding administrative ability and her total involvement in every aspect of the life of the school.

Her successor, Miss Jeanette Emmerson BA, serviced the school for only two years before returning to Australia. The Deputy Principal, Miss Cynthia Blair BA, first became Acting Principal and was then appointed by the Trust Board to the position of Principal. She led the school in the celebration of its 75th Jubilee and oversaw the building of a beautiful Chapel to mark the occasion. During this time, other developments took place in the school including the establishment of the Ngaio Marsh theatre to enhance the cultural life of the school and to remember one of the school’s most illustrious old girls.

In 1987, Mrs Susan Gardiner BA, BD was appointed to replace Miss Blair on her retirement. The school was to develop further under Mrs Gardiner’s leadership. The Junior School was re-established in a beautiful building sited at the Winchester Street entrance to the property. Julius, one of the boarding houses was rebuilt, and Kilburn, the other boarding house, was totally renovated giving the school one of the most up-to-date and attractive boarding facilities of any girls’ school in the country. Mrs Gardiner was also responsible for the development of innovative programmes for extension learning in the Junior, Intermediate and lower Secondary schools.

In May 1992, Miss Claudia Wysocki MA (Hons) was appointed to replace Mrs Gardiner. The school flourished and developed an emphasis on learning and development of the whole person. The International Baccalaureate was introduced and new facilities for science and technology were built. The school became a leading player in technology education in New Zealand.

In January 2008 Mrs Gillian Simpson was appointed on Miss Wysocki’s retirement. The last nine years have perhaps been the most trying in the school’s long history with over 80% of its building lost in the Canterbury earthquakes. The school as presented with unprecedented physical and emotional challenges and at times we feared for the survival of our college. In Gillian’s own words, “There was no going back and we needed the courage and unshakeable faith to keep moving forward together to create our future.” Under Gillian’s strong and compassionate leadership, the school has risen stronger than ever before. The new facilities are world class and the school retains a strong sense of community. The campus is warm and welcoming and looks forward to ’empowering’ girls for another century.

The school is governed by a Trust Board of sixteen members. These members serve as representatives of various groups with an interest in the school: parents, the Old Girls’ Association, the Standing Committee and the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch. The Bishop of Christchurch is the Warden of the College. The Board meets regularly and is responsible for the governance of the College, including its financial security. The College is affiliated to the Independent Schools’ Council and the Executive Principal is a member of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of New Zealand, the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia and the Australasian Alliance of Girls’ Schools.

St Margaret’s College Archives

St Margaret’s College Archives holds a collection of items relating to the school’s history from a variety of sources including the Board of Governors, Principal’s Office, Bursar’s office, students, teachers and PTA/PFA. The St Margaret’s College Old Girls’ Association has a special interest in the school’s history and its members have donated memorabilia from 1910 onwards.

The archives is situated at 28 Winchester Street and open on Thursdays and Fridays from 9am-4pm or by arrangement. Vickie Ward, the school archivist, can be contacted by phoning 353 2560 extn 8523 or by emailing [email protected]