She was born to a family of St Mawes in Cornwall, originally from Portugal, and spent her childhood in Horsell, Surrey. Barbara married Charles Aitken during World War I, meeting while they were employed at the War Trade Intelligence Department. They eventually moved to the county of Hampshire.
Her works were inspired by the lectures of John Linton Myres and Henry Balfour, after which she began a Classical education and achieved distinction in the field of anthropology. She remained a student of Balfour, and her education spanned a fellowship at Oxford and as a student of Professor Hobhouse at the London School of Economics. Her papers were published in Man and read before the British Association. She took a position at the Pitt Rivers Museum to study for her diploma and remained associated with this institution when this was completed; a collection of her specimens held at the museum. She became a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1907. Her membership in the Folklore Society from 1926 was preceded by articles in its journal, for which she continued to contribute 'Scraps of English folklore', correspondence, and a 1959 study of "processes of localization and relocalization" of folklore.
- Babcock, Barbara A.; Parezo, Nancy J. (1988). Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest, 1880-1980. University of New Mexico Press. p. 21. ISBN 0826310877.
- Petch, Alison. "Barbara Freire-Marreco (Mrs Robert Aitken)". 'The Other Within' project. Pitt Rivers Museum. Archived from the original on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
- A Life Well Led: The Biography of Barbara Freire-Marreco Aitken, British Anthropologist (2008) by Mary Ellen Blair ISBN 9780865344969
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