American Medical Biographies/Baker, William Henry

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Baker, William Henry (1845–1914)

William Henry Baker's title to recognition lies in his having brought the new specialty of gynecology from the Woman's Hospital in the State of New York to Boston in 1875, and there for twenty years teaching it to the students of the Harvard Medical School both by lectures, as professor of gynecology, and by clinics at the Free Hospital for Women, which he founded on the general plan of the parent hospital. The facts of his life are these: He was born on March 11, 1845, at Medford, Massachusetts, the son of Rev. Abijah R. Baker, D. D., a Congregational clergyman, and of Harriet Woods, daughter of Rev. Leonard Woods, president of Andover Theological Seminary. His early education was received at Atkinson Academy, N. H., which he left at the age of eighteen to enter business in New York City. Here he prospered so that at the end of six years he was able to carry out a cherished ambition, to study medicine. After receiving an M. D. from Harvard Medical School in 1872 he served as a surgical interne at the Boston City Hospital, and took a like appointment at the Woman's Hospital in the State of New York, then situated at Forty-ninth Street and Lexington Avenue. Association with Sims, Emmet, Peaslee and Thomas inspired Baker to carry their ideas to new fields and arriving in Boston he was appointed on the staff of the Boston Dispensary where he demonstrated that gynecology could be taught to students in a public clinic, in spite of the opposition of many of the older members of the profession, who held that it was immodest and that the public would never permit such instruction.

In 1875 he raised what would now seem a small fund of money with which he founded the Free Hospital for Women in a dwelling house in East Springfield street, near the City Hospital, developing the institution by donations from his private patients and friends, whose loyalty he took great pains to preserve by constant favors and by his winning personality, until the hospital finally occupied its beautiful building on the Boston Parkway in the town of Brookline.

Baker was a shrewd business man, a keen judge of human nature besides being an able plastic surgeon. He retained the positions of surgeon-in-chief and trustee to the hospital he had founded until 1907 when he retired with the title of surgeon emeritus. Twelve years before, he had resigned his position as professor of gynecology at Harvard. During his active career he was a member of the American Gynecological Society, the Obstetrical Society of Boston, and the Boston Society for Medical Improvement. His wife was Charlotte A. Ball, of Boston, and she and two sons survived him upon his death from heart disease at his home at Roberts, Waltham, November 26, 1914.

Boston Med. & Surg. Jour., 1914.
Report, Free Hospital for Women, 1913–1914, W. P. Graves, M.D.
N. Y. Jour. Gyn. & Obstet., 1892, II, 580–582. Portrait and partial bibliography.