Woman Barkman, Frances

Teacher and Welfare worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Frances Barkman was born in Kiev, Russia, in 1885, the daughter of Hebrew teacher, Joseph Barkman and his wife, Anna. After migrating with her family to Melbourne in 1891, she undertook teacher training and later graduated with a BA from the University of Melbourne in 1915. Supporting herself as a teacher, she pursued her interests in French and drama, and was a member of both the Lyceum Club and the Alliance Francaise.

The foundation of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society in 1936 brought Barkman into philanthropic work. As honorary secretary of the Melbourne branch she ensured that the ships bringing refugees from Europe were met at the wharf and that assistance was offered to the new arrivals. In 1939 she organised the foundation of a home for refugee children in Balwyn, seeking to make it 'as much like a home as possible' for the children, most of whom had left parents behind in Germany (Argus, 25 July 1939). During the war she was also an advocate and fund-raiser for the Free French movement in Australia and organised the collection and shipping of relief and educational materials when the war came to an end. Barkman was an astute user of the media to win support for her causes, fighting to create sympathy for Jewish refugees (Argus, 30 June 1939) and, later, to attract publicity to the French cause (Argus, 18 November 1944).

Barkman never married. On her death in 1948, she left her estate to the University of Melbourne and the Australian Jewish Welfare Society. The Society's Frances Barkman homes were named in her honour.

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