Margaret Watkins was born Meta Gladys Watkins on 8 November 1884 in Hamilton, Ontario. Her parents were Frederick W. Watkins and Marion Watt Anderson. Mr. Watkins was an alderman, head of the YMCA, a trustee of the Centenary Methodist Church, a knight of the temperance movement, and a prominent dry goods merchant. He was owner of Pratt & Watkins and later Frederick W. Watkins stores. Marion Watt Anderson was from Glasgow, Scotland. She was active in art and music.
Watkins left home in 1908. She worked in various artists' communities, including the Roycrofters in East Aurora, New York from 1909 to 1910, and the Lanier Camp in Maine from 1911 to 1916. She lived in Boston from 1912 to 1915, where she published the occasional poem and designed costumes for amateur plays. She attended the Clarence H. White Summer School of Photography in Maine in 1914 and worked as an apprentice photographer with the Arthur Jamieson Studio in Boston. In 1915 Watkins moved to New York City and began work for Alice Boughton. She attended and taught at the Clarence H. White School of Photography. Watkins's photographic works were exhibited in a number of locations, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Java, Japan and London.
Watkins became a successful commercial photographer specializing in portraits and still life works. She was commissioned by Macy's and J. Walter Thompson to photograph items. Watkins also trained some of the best commercial photographers of her time including Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner and Margaret Bourke-White. Watkins was actively involved with the Pictorial Photographers of America, The Art Center and the Zonta Club of New York. In 1928, Watkins left for a six-week holiday in Europe. When she arrived, she took over caring for her maiden aunts and never returned to New York.
Watkins continued to photograph in Europe and was a member of the West of Scotland Photographic Club and the Royal Photographic Society. She photographed trips to the USSR, Germany and France (1928-1933). She and her friend, Bertha Henson (nee Merriman), began an import/export business in the late thirties. Margaret Watkins died in Glasgow on 10 November 1969.