Maria Wilman was born in 1867 in South Africa's Cape Province, a region that would prove fundamental in shaping her future as a scholar and rock-art collector. Miss Wilman was the second South African female to attend Cambridge University in England, where she was awarded a Science Degree in geology, mineralogy, and chemistry in 1888. In 1893, wishing to further her academic career Miss Wilman returned to Cambridge and completed a Masters of Arts in botany during 1895.
Between 1895 and 1907, she returned to South Africa where she filled a volunteer position in the Geology department of the South African Museum in Cape Town.
Without a formal degree (as these were not conferred on women until the 1930's), and lacking her father's approval she could not accept remuneration for her work and thus remained a volunteer until 1907. It was only in1933 that Miss Wilman formally received her degree from Cambridge University.
During her time at The South African Museum, she reported to Louis Albert Peringuey, whose interest in the San people and their culture spurred him to send her on research trips into the Northern Cape Province and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
In 1908, when Miss Wilman became the first director of the Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum in Kimberley, she traveled by ox-wagon through Lesotho and Botswana studying the San people and their cultural products.
The artifacts, implements and other San cultural products that she acquired as director of the museum are among the most important of their kind. Miss Wilman compiled and edited her research and published her book, "Rock-engravings of Griqualand West" which remained the standard text on Southern African Rock Art for almost 5 decades. In 1939 Miss Wilman was awarded an honorary doctorate in law by the University of the Witwatersrand. She died in 1957