“CHARLOTTE BAKER: FIRST WOMAN PHYSICIAN AND COMMUNITY LEADER IN TURN OF 19TH-CENTURY SAN DIEGO”
ALMA KATHRYN ROBENS, MASTER’S THESIS,
Charlotte Baker and her husband Fred came to San Diego in January 1888. Both were physicians who earned degrees at the University of Michigan. The first woman doctor in San Diego, Charlotte delivered over 1000 babies and boasted she “never lost a mother."
The Bakers had an office/home at Seventh, between F and G Streets. Later they built a two-story house in Point Loma on nine-tenths of an acre. It was the only house in Point Loma for several years. They sailed to work downtown, making the trip in 20 minutes in good weather and up to five hours in bad.
Their regular office hours were between eleven and three o’clock. They made exceptions, though, because most patients wouldn't miss a day's work to see a doctor, so the Bakers often worked after dark and on Sundays.
Charlotte Baker's first presentation to the local medical society was on the use of hypnotism as a treatment for pain.
In a lifetime of service to the community, Fred Baker co-founded the San Diego Zoo and Scripps Institution. Charlotte “was always in the frontline trenches for justice and right."
She co-founded the YWCA in San Diego, though it wasn't called that in 1907. In 1933, Baker wrote, “as usual, Adam's claims came first and we women were called the YMCA Auxiliary.” She had gospel singers give a performance in 1907 “to try to arouse the needs of Eve as well as Adam."
Baker advocated “municipal housekeeping." She helped form clubs and urged women to take an active part in protecting other women's lives. Robens writes, “a short, stocky New Englander, [Baker] was brusque, direct, and assertive. She worked professionally, raised two children and a foster son.... She performed active service in the community, even if she tarnished the men's image of the traditional compliant female."
She helped close the Stingaree, San Diego's red-light district. She led the Women's Suffrage Campaign of 1911. She even received a death threat. The note read, “have just received orders to exterminate you at once (Dynamite will be used)."
Robens sums up Baker's achievement: “Her political activities spanned 20 years. She was 56 when she led the suffrage campaign and 76 when she left her position on the Civil Service Commission. During this period the country went to war, San Diego suffered from a worldwide influenza epidemic, experienced a catastrophic flood, saw the ratification of the 19th Amendment, witnessed the prohibition of liquor, and adjusted to changes in local government and politics. It is within this context that Baker worked toward her goal...of public support for women."
Baker died October 31,1937. She was 82. Her motto: “If I had my life to live over again, I would not alter my course unless to fight harder."
MASTER'S THESIS EXCERPTS:
- In 1911 automobile traffic in San Diego became unmanageable. The city council considered enacting speed limits and parking ordinances. The medical society [asked the council for] the following concessions for doctors: no speed limit; no limit to the time a car could ’stand in one place'; and permission to have a distinguishing mark placed on the doctors’ cars. As a result of this presentation, the council exempted the physicians from any regulations.
- Before they came to San Diego, the Bakers owned a ranch in New Mexico. Charlotte wrote of an attack: '...over 200 Apaches on the war path murdered the ranchers less than a day's journey southwest of us the night before. We had generally kept a good supply of ammunition for our four rifles but had carelessly let this run down to about a hundred rounds all told. This, of course, settled any question of remaining at the ranch, and we only awaited the foreman's return to be on our way. Soon he appeared, riding one horse and leading another and, in his arms, two baby antelopes which he had found beside their dead mother. These he bundled in with me, and they were harder to keep still than the children, who thought the whole performance was quite a lark for their benefit. Such a night I had with the babies and the antelopes. I rode with my six-shooter in my hands and a rifle nearby and was prepared to take no chances of the Indians getting the children should they attack us.'
- Baker was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. She wrote: 'Waked a little after 5 with the most fearful earthquake, which lasted about 1 and 1/2 minutes...everyone moving, pushing trunks, bedsteads & everything on casters. City under martial law... The fire was a fearful but magnificent sight.' To cook meals, 'people made fire in stoves built from fallen bricks.' When the Bakers sailed home to San Diego on a steamer, 'the motion reminded us of earthquakes all the time.'
- The latter half of the 19th Century was called by some the golden age of the medicine show. Most people were uneducated and gullible about health. Even the best doctors, as shown in the San Diego society's minutes, did not know the real causes and cures for many diseases. According to Leland Stanford, who wrote a historical sketch of medical practices in San Diego, this city provided greater opportunity for quackery than any other. San Diego's climate had appealed to sufferers of pulmonary disease. It was advertised that over half the people in this city were consumptive. As a result, San Diego had more than its share of charlatans, who sold their nostrums, inhalators, and cures, such as a 'diet of dog meat.' It was in this climate that the local medical society struggled to legitimize its profession.