Mrs Maria Dyer, a missionary of the London Missionary Society, was en route to China when she stopped in Singapore. Walking along the streets, she was horrified to see a pitiful group of young girls auctioned as slaves for the homes of the rich. These girls were the “Mui Tsai” slaves.
Moved by compassion for these poor girls, Maria resolved to do something for them. In 1842, she obtained permission to start a home for homeless girls, regardless of race, in a tiny shophouse in North Bridge Road. Thus began the first girls’ school in Singapore.
The girls were given an elementary education in English, instructed in the Christian religion and were taught how to be good homemakers with cooking and needlework lessons.
For many years, it was the only girls’ school in Singapore.
In the early years, the enrolment comprised only twenty students but the school soon became so highly reputed for its effective character-building that many young men in the region, some as far away as China, wrote to the school in search of suitable wives!
As the number of pupils increased, the school relocated several times before finally settling at 134 Sophia Road in 1861, with a boarding house built in its grounds. It was named the Chinese Girls’ School.
In 1900, The Church of England Zenanah Missionary Society took over the management of the school which was renamed the CEZMS School. At that time, there was still no consciousness on the part of the public that education was beneficial to girls as well as to boys. By providing education for girls, the school helped to change the attitude of Singapore parents.
In 1928, more academic subjects were introduced. The school also had its first Science laboratory.
The Second World War did much damage to the school building. When regular teaching resumed, the Bishop of Singapore changed the name from CEZMS School to St. Margaret’s School, after Queen Margaret of Scotland.
In tune with the changes in Singapore, the school endeavored to provide students with a broad based education – in the academic, physical, social, moral and spiritual domains. Soon, the school had grown so much that space for further expansion was required.
In 1957, plans were made to build a new Secondary School at Farrer Road. Completed in 1960, it was officially opened by the Rt Rev RF Gibson Jr, Bishop of Virginia on 20 February 1963.
The school continued to excel academically and in the sports area. It won many national tennis and badminton championships in the 1980s.
To meet the changing needs of education in the 21st century, redevelopment of the secondary school commenced in 1998. The school then moved to its temporary premises at Commonwealth Avenue.
In December 2000, the school celebrated its homecoming to a brand new campus with state of the art facilities back at Farrer Road. The crowning touch to this momentous event was our special guest, Dr James Hudson Taylor III, the great grandson of Mrs Maria Dyer, the founder of St. Margaret’s.
On 26 July 2002, 160 years since the founding of the school, St. Margaret’s Secondary School’s new campus at Farrer Road was officially declared open by Dr Tony Tan, then the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence.
The school Mrs Maria Dyer founded has evolved from St. Margaret’s School to become St. Margaret’s Primary School and St. Margaret’s Secondary School. The different locations notwithstanding, the schools have nurtured a community of learners with the common school motto of ‘Charity • Patience • Devotion’ and school values as our guiding principles.
To better reflect our shared historical identity, legacy and heritage, the schools have been renamed from 1 January 2023. The name change has been formally endorsed by the Ministry of Education and the Diocese of Singapore. The schools are hence known as: St. Margaret’s School (Primary) and St. Margaret’s School (Secondary).