Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frances Barkman (1885–1946)

by Paul R. Bartrop

This article was published:

Frances Barkman (1885-1946), teacher and Jewish welfare worker, was born in March 1885 at Kiev, Russia, daughter of Joseph Barkman, a teacher of Hebrew, and his wife Anna. With her parents, Frances migrated to Melbourne in 1891 and was educated at the Rathdowne Street State School and the Melbourne Training College. While teaching in the Victorian Education Department, she graduated (Dip.Ed., 1909; B.A., 1915) from the University of Melbourne.

From an early age Barkman developed cultural interests which she later demonstrated by convening the dramatic circle of the Lyceum Club; as a young teacher in suburban state schools and then at the Continuation School, Melbourne (1911-36), she was energetic in organizing dramatic performances. Her major academic area was French, in which subject she was appointed an examiner at the university public examinations. For her 'outstanding interest and promulgation of French literature, art and teaching', she received two awards in the 1930s from the government of France. Throughout her career she was a leading member of the Alliance Française in Victoria.

To help alleviate the distress of Jews who had fled from the Nazis, the Australian Jewish Welfare Society was established in Sydney in 1936. A Victorian branch was founded in Melbourne soon after. Barkman served as the branch's honorary secretary and arranged for local assistance to new arrivals in Victoria. She influenced the activities of the women's auxiliary and saw to it that representatives from the society met incoming ships with refugees on board. At her initiative, in 1939 a home was set up for thirty-two refugee children. This home, the Balwyn estate, Larino, became the permanent location of the relief-service offered to juveniles by the Melbourne Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society. When Larino was sold in 1965, two new Frances Barkman Houses were established to commemorate the founder.

During World War II Barkman had become an inaugural member of the Free French Movement in Australia and was a leading advocate of its cause throughout the German occupation of France. From 1942 she taught at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School where she took charge of war relief organization, 'bullying' her students into raising money for the patriotic fund and 'doling out skein after skein of khaki wool' for them to knit their quota of balaclavas. Following the liberation of France in 1944, she began moves to obtain French educational materials for Australian schools and was keenly supported by the French government.

After years of selfless work at the expense of her health, Frances Barkman died of cancer on 28 September 1946 at St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, and was buried with Jewish rites in Fawkner cemetery. Most of her family had been massacred in Kiev during the 1905 pogroms; her will named the University of Melbourne and the Australian Jewish Welfare Society as her chief beneficiaries, and provided educational bursaries for students in the Jewish Refugee Children's Home.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Inglis, Amirah (Melb, 1983)
  • MacRobertson Girls' High Schol, Pallas, 1946, p 6
  • Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society, Welfare, July 1985, p 6
  • private information.

Citation details

Paul R. Bartrop, 'Barkman, Frances (1885–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


March, 1885
Kiev, Ukraine


28 September, 1946 (aged 61)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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