Sara Josephine Baker

Sara Josephine Baker



Sara Josephine Baker

The life of Sara Josephine Baker began in Poughkeepsie New York in 1873. Her parents were Daniel Mosher Baker and Jenny Harwood Brown. Her mother was one of the first people to graduate from Vassar College and her father was a lawyer. Baker had a happy childhood and she enjoyed the support of her parents. The death of her father and brother changed her plans for attending medical school and she had to give up her scholarship because of the added family responsibilities. She chose to attend medical school. In 1894, she joined the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary and she graduated four years later. Following this, she was able to get an internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (Parry, 2006). This gave her exposure and experience and she worked with many poor people. The decision to work at the city hospital informed her decision on what she would do for the rest of her life.

Baker teamed up with a friend she had met while interning and the two opened their own private practice in 1899. The two of them also worked for the New York life insurance company as medical examiners. In addition, baker took on more duties as a city medical inspector. Many people recognized her efforts and she was appointed as the assistant commissioner for health in 1907 (Parry, 2006). During this time, she was able to manage the smallpox vaccination program, Typhoid Mary, and the sanitation issues that were a major concern for the city. She concentrated her efforts on disease prevention, awareness, and education. In 1908, she was appointed as the new bureau of child hygiene. She worked with young girls, immigrant families living in poor neighborhoods, as well as the Little Mothers League. She taught about health, disease prevention, and the importance of hygiene and sanitation. This had a major effect on reducing child and infant mortality. In addition, she trained midwives, distributed milk, and was involved in making health policies.

Baker’s work with the poor was her driving force. Conditions in the slums and the congested sections of New York were so bad that a third of the children born there died before they were five years old (Epstein, 2013). She realized that many people could live longer if they were able to avoid sickness. She is mostly recognized for her role in preventive medicine. Before then, people only sought medical services whenever they became sick. She influenced her generation in the early twentieth century and she was instrumental in the development of health and medicine. Infectious diseases such as smallpox and influenza tended to be common in the large cities. However, during Bakers leadership in various roles, the spread of such diseases reduced drastically. She appointed nurses who visited and taught mothers lessons such as frequent bathing, importance of outdoor airing, and efficient ventilation in the home (Out History, n. d.).

Baker faced many challenges in her life. In the first place, it was difficult for her to pursue medicine because many medical schools did not accept female students. Moreover, when she began working for the New York City department of health, she was given the low work of working with people in the slums because she was a woman. However, as she would realize later, these challenges were a driving force in her life and they directed her life’s work. Baker faced additional challenges from the physicians who felt that she was destroying their work. For instance, more than thirty physicians in Brooklyn New York signed a petition to abolish the bureau of Child Hygiene because they felt that it was destroying their work since fewer children were getting sick (Chung, 2009). Despite the challenges she encountered, Baker Persevered with her work and she left an admirable legacy after her death in 1945.


Chung, K. T. (2009). Women pioneers of medical research: Biographies of 25 outstanding scientists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland

Epstein, H. (2013). The doctor who made a revolution. Retrieved from

Out History. (n. d.). Sara Josephine Baker: Public Health Pioneer. Retrieved from

Parry, S. M. (2006). Sara Josephine Baker (1873-1945). American Journal of Public Health, 96(4), 620-621

Zuger, A. (2013, Oct. 28). A life in pursuit of health: Josephine Baker’s ‘fighting for life’ still thought-provoking decades later. The New York Times. Retrieved from

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