Politics and Personal Life

Sara Josephine Baker 3

Baker driving an automobile (National Library of Medicine) [n.d.]


Feminism was far from Baker’s mind when she first entered medicine, but while living in New York she became active in the suffrage movement, later joining Heterodoxy, a women’s discussion club with a reputation so radical that they had to move their location each week to avoid government scrutiny.[16] The “free-thinking and free-spirited women” of Heterodoxy, some of whom were lesbian or bisexual, formed part of a wider network of female companionship from which Baker drew sustenance.[17]

Personal Life

While Baker appears to have destroyed records of her personal life, she lived for many years with the novelist I.A.R. Wylie, who wrote candidly in her autobiography that she had “always liked women better than men” and took a “faintly masculine” attitude toward her intimates.[18] The two shared a New York apartment and traveled to Russia together, later moving to Princeton, NJ where they shared a house with Dr. Louise Pearce, and were known locally as “The Girls.”[19] Well aware that three professional women “living amicably and even gaily together” was an “odd phenomenon,” Wylie wrote that “we are all three quite reasonably happy” and she could count on her companions “to the death.”[20] After Baker’s death in 1945, Wylie and Pearce continued living together until they both passed away in 1959.[21]

Baker lived at a time when the Victorian tradition of intimate friendships between women was beginning to be supplanted by a new discourse of “lesbianism” as a defined psycho-sexual orientation, an era in which professional women “usually had to buy success at the price of marriage and children, sometimes charm and personal appearance, of being considered queer – as some of them undoubtedly were.”[22] While her sexuality may not be immediately legible to modern readers, we do know that Baker affirmed that she led “a glorious, an exhilarating and an altogether satisfactory life.”[23]

[16] Ibid, 182.

[17] Bert Hansen, “Public Careers and Private Sexuality: Some Gay and Lesbian Lives in the History of Medicine and Public Health,” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 1 (January 2002): 38. See also Judith Schwarz, Radical Feminists of Heterodoxy: Greenwich Village, 1912-1940 (New Victoria Publishers, 1982).

[18] I. A. R. Wylie, My Life With George, An Unconventional Autobiography (New York, [c1940]), 283.

[19] Ibid, 345.

[20] Ibid, 344.

[21] Hansen, “Public Careers and Private Sexuality,” 38.

[22] Mary Ross, quoted in Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy & Science, 319.

[23] Baker, Fighting for Life, 259.