Maggie Wilkins Hill Barry, educator and leader in efforts for Texas rural women, was born in Palo Alto, Mississippi, on January 5, 1863, the daughter of Samuel Van Dyke and Jennie (Calvert) Hill. Her father was a physician and surgeon, and her mother came from a large landholding and slaveowning family in eastern Mississippi. Maggie began her formal education in the private schools of Macon, Mississippi, and later studied at Tuscaloosa (Alabama) Female College and Murfreesboro (Tennessee) Institute. After attaining a master's degree at Murfreesboro, she spent several years studying music, theater, and modern languages in Boston, New Orleans, Paris, and Berlin.
Her early career included serving as head of a private school in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and holding faculty positions in modern languages and music at Murfreesboro Institute and Whitworth College in Mississippi. While teaching at Whitworth she worked under principal Lucy Kidd (see KIDD-KEY, LUCY ANN THORNTON). When Mrs. Kidd moved to Sherman, Texas, in 1888 to become president of North Texas Female College (later Kidd-Key College), Maggie Barry moved with her to serve as head of the English department. In 1891 she returned to Mississippi and married Frederick George Barry, a lawyer and former United States congressman. The Barrys had one daughter, Jennie Hill, who later taught voice at Texas Presbyterian College.
Barry died in 1909 but his wife had already apparently returned to her position at North Texas Female College. In addition to resuming her teaching and administrative duties in Sherman, Mrs. Barry also organized a Girls Shakespeare Club at the college in 1900, joined the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs in 1907, and spent several summers in Europe. In 1911 she organized the All Southwestern Social Center Conference, which was held in Dallas. Her particular effort was to reduce the immigration of rural youth to large cities. In 1914 the United States Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which encouraged state agricultural colleges to work cooperatively with other groups in providing demonstrations on home economics and agriculture. In Texas this act resulted in the establishment of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, which was to work in conjunction with the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) in demonstration efforts. A&M president William Bennett Bizzell hired Maggie Barry to serve as a liaison between the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and organized women's groups in the state. In 1918 she moved to College Station to begin her work, drawing on her background as an educator and her increasing interest in rural problems.
Her efforts at A&M focused on the home demonstration movement in Texas, which was largely a rural effort that utilized demonstrations and models to illustrate how to perform domestic tasks more effectively and improve social interaction. Although home demonstration work existed in Texas before Maggie Barry began her work, she is credited with providing the structure it needed to flourish. She emphasized local interest and community ties as a basis for home demonstration success. She taught organizing principles and practices to district agents, who supervised the county agents who actually went into interested communities to work with individuals and groups. Mrs. Barry, who was the first specialist in rural women's work in Texas, utilized her position to organize, educate, and write for rural women until her retirement in 1940. In 1941 a Texas Home Demonstration Association scholarship was named in her honor. She also served as an advocate for rural women through leadership positions in the national General Federation of Women's Clubs. In that federation she organized surveys of social hygiene in schools and equipment in rural and urban homes and was instrumental in having "homemaker" listed as an occupation on United States census rolls in 1930. She was an active member of the Parent-Teachers Association and the Texas State Teachers Association; she was nominated for the presidency of the latter in 1916. She was a lifelong Democrat. Maggie Barry died in College Station on April 30, 1945, and was survived by her daughter.