Students at the University of Sydney

Early women students

Margaret Estelle Barnes

Margaret Estelle Barnes (later Maltby-Robinson) graduated Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Sydney in 1906, one of the first two women to graduate in Dentistry from an Australian university.


Her early years

Margaret Estelle Barnes was born at Waverley. Her parents were Stafford Henry and Mary Maria Theresa Ramsay and she had two sisters. Margaret attended Hornsby Junction Public School and Riviere College, Woollahra.

Her student days at the University of Sydney

Achieving a pass in her matriculation exams in March 1902, Margaret Barnes was admitted to the School of Dentistry that year. She gained the License in Dental Surgery (LDS) in 1905 and then graduated Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 1906 with Annie Praed - the first two women to graduate in Dentistry from an Australian university.

Annie Praed and Margaret Barnes with their male colleagues on the day they graduated in 1906.

Annie Praed and Margaret Barnes (right) with their male colleagues on the day they graduated in 1906, image G3_224_1482, University of Sydney Archives.

Her career

Following graduation, Margaret began a solo practice at 193 Macquarie Street, Sydney. She described that time: 'four of us new grads (Starkey, Hardie, Stockwell & I) started in the same house and while we waited for an influx of patients we amused ourselves wandering in & out of each others rooms advising and criticising our shining equipment' ('Margaret Estelle Barnes and Annie Praed, Australia's first women graduates in dentistry: twentieth century feminity and professionalism in dentistry', a thesis for the PhD, by Z C Comino Cerny). However, at this time there was strong prejudice against women dentists.

She joined Annie Praed in 1914 in Suite 6, Sixth Floor, Challis House, Martin Place, Sydney, and was appointed as dentist to Scots College, a Sydney private boys' school.

During WWI she was Honorary Secretary of the Sydney University Women's Council to aid wounded University men.

She retired from dentistry following her marriage to mechanical engineer Kenneth (Sapper) Maltby-Robinson, whom she met when she was in partnership with Annie Praed, on 4 June 1921.

After their marriage, while she accommodated her husband's career, she carried out philanthropic and community work, e.g. involvement with the Blind Society and the Kindergarten Union, and wrote children's literature that was sometimes published in the children's section of the 'Sydney Morning Herald'.

She lived between 1928 and 1933 on Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania, where her husband was manager of a cement works. They moved to New Zealand where her husband was manager of another cement works, then returned to Sydney in the 1930s and lived in Queensland during WWII. Following her husband's retirement, they lived at Southport, Queensland, until his death.

She died in a private hospital at Gordon, Sydney, on 11 April 1975 aged 94.

Margaret retired at Southport, Queensland

Margaret retired at Southport, Queensland, photo, 'The Australian Women's Weekly', 29 June 1966, National Library of Australia.


Information sources
  • 'Margaret Estelle Barnes and Annie Praed, Australia's first women graduates in dentistry: twentieth century feminity and professionalism in dentistry', a thesis for the PhD, by Z C Comino Cerny
  • National Library of Australia historic newspapers
  • University of Sydney Calendar Archive