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The Kids' Corner

Let's Talk About:
Women's History

Sara Baker was pioneer in the field of public health

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker grew up in a world of fancy dresses, parties and having the best. But tragedies would change that life and make a difference for others less fortunate.

Born in 1873 in Poughkeepsie, New York, Baker’s family life was practically without a care. Her life took an abrupt turn when she was 16, when both her brother and her father passed away. Suddenly, the family didn’t have the money they used to, and someone needed to earn a living.

Women of her class usually became teachers or nannies. But not Baker. She wanted to be a doctor. After graduating with high marks, Baker interned in what was, for her, another world: the slums of Boston.

Baker went to work with a passion. In 1901, she was hired as a medical inspector for New York City, a city with some of the worst slums to be seen at the time. Her job was to try to prevent the spread of disease.

The idea of public health was new, and Baker helped form the new systems. Like a detective, Baker observed problems while looking for clues to causes.

Baker noticed that some midwives, people who helped deliver babies, weren’t always prepared and, in some cases, not very clean. She helped establish standards for midwives, hoping to prevent problems.

The idea of preventing problems was a style that would stay with Baker all her life. She saw that many babies were dying during the hot summers. She went to work on the problem in the slums of New York with a staff of 30. They showed the mothers simple things they could do, like bathing the baby or taking it to the park for fresh air. Baker taught mothers and midwives ways to deal with the day-to-day care of infants and children. The way she looked for solutions that were workable, rather than waiting for a perfect answer, meant many babies got the chance to grow up.

— By Lizabeth Gray

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