The history of St. Stephen’s College can be traced to St. Stephen’s High School, founded in 1854 by the Reverend Samuel Scot Alnutt, Chaplain of Delhi, run by the Delhi Mission of the United Society. With the closure of Government College, Delhi in 1879 because of financial problems, Reverend Thomas Valpy French, immediately urged the Cambridge Mission, an Anglican mission organised by the alumni of University of Cambridge, to fill the breach. The other major aim for the foundation of the college was response to British Indian Government‘s policy of promoting English education in India.It was the Reverend Samuel Scott Allnutt of St. John’s College, Cambridge, who was mainly responsible for founding the college. Finally on 1 February 1881, in support of the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Cambridge Brotherhood founded the St. Stephen’s College. The Reverend Samuel Scott Allnutt served as its first principal.
The college’s first premises were in Chandni Chowk, Delhi with 5 boarders and three professors, and was an affiliate of the University of Calcutta, but later in 1882, it changed its affiliation to Punjab University. The Punjab University received its charter more than one year after the founding of St. Stephen’s College, which became one of the two institutions first affiliated to it and moved into premises in Kashmiri Gate, Delhi.
In 1906, Principal The Rev. G. Hibbert Ware abdicated his post in favour of Susil Kumar Rudra who became the first Indian to head a major educational institution in India. The decision was frowned upon at the time, but Principal Susil Kumar Rudra proved to have a tenure of extraordinary importance for the college.
Reverend C. F. Andrews, a prominent lecturer at the college and member of the Cambridge Brotherhood, was active in the Indian independence movement, and was named ‘Deenbandhu’ (which means, friend of the poor) by Mahatma Gandhi on account of his work with the needy and with the trade union movement. Currently, a portrait of Reverend C. F. Andrews is hung beside the portrait of his good friend Rabindranath Tagore in the Principal’s office. It is also believed that Rabindranath Tagore completed the English translation of ‘Gitanjali‘, for which he was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, while a guest at the college.
With the establishment of the University of Delhi in 1922, the college became a constituent college of the University.
Women were first admitted in 1928, as there were no women’s colleges in Delhi affiliated with the Anglican Church at the time; after the founding of Miranda House in 1949, women were not accepted as students until 1975.