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Fighting for Life

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  224 ratings  ·  46 reviews
New York’s Lower East Side was said to be the most densely populated square mile on earth in the 1890s. Health inspectors called the neighborhood “the suicide ward.” Diarrhea epidemics raged each summer, killing thousands of children. Sweatshop babies with smallpox and typhus dozed in garment heaps destined for fashionable shops. Desperate mothers paced the streets to soot ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by NYRB Classics (first published January 1st 1939)
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Nov 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I finally have the answer to the question "what famous person do you most wish you could have met?" Hands down - Dr Josephine Baker ...more
This New England doctor actually got up and told the committee: "We oppose this bill because, if you are going to save the lives of all these women and children at public expense, what inducement will there be for young men to study medicine?" Senator Sheppard, the chairman, stiffened and leaned forward: "Perhaps I didn't understand you correctly," he said; "you surely don't mean that you want women and children to die unnecessarily or live in constant danger of sickness so there will be some
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoirs
NYRB has published this memoir of Josephine Baker, an American doctor who got sidelined into public health and made a phenomenal difference in child health in New York City. She worked with poor immigrant babies, mothers, and school children, and radically changed the approach to child health by focusing on prevention rather than treatment.

Baker was a radical pioneer, although she disclaims the role. She lost her father just as she reached college age, and instead of attending Vassar as planned
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. I read about this book after watching the tv show "The Knick." If you are in medicine, public health, a New Yorker or interested in learning about a fascinating woman....this book is for you! Dr.Baker was a pioneer and a amazing woman who is responsible for promoting midwives, baby health, school nurses and so much more that we often take for granted. She achieved so much during a time when men blocked her at every turn. She even chase ...more
Oct 11, 2013 marked it as to-read
I confess, I was inspired to read this autobiography of an inspirational woman who transformed American public health because of this Hark, a vagrant comic. ...more
Oct 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An excellent memoir by a founder of child hygiene practices that brought about a stunning drop in early 20th-century child mortalities rates, often using methods of child care and nutrition that are taken for granted as "natural" today. Baker was also prominent in the Woman's Suffrage Movement as it moved the country toward granting women the right to vote--with the hopes that further positive changes could be brought about (namely, establishing child labor laws) once that voting bloc was establ ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: idlewild
By the time she retired in 1923, Dr. Baker's public health programs had saved the lives of 90,000 NYC children. The bald facts of her life make for an interesting narrative, what with her Poughkeepsie childhood, her (two) captures of Typhoid Mary, her day with Teddy Roosevelt, and her 1930s tour of the Soviet Union. But the woman could write, too. She wasn't shy about her accomplishments, and her creativity and mettle are in full force on every page. ...more
Jan 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Everyone should know about Dr. Baker, one of the first women doctors who saved thousands of babies through her child health programs and established practices that are so standard now that it's hard to believe that someone initiated them. I loved her great practical spirit and her views were so modern. We could use her leadership now. ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Quite simply, I adored this book. It’s one of those reads where people need to be careful not to walk by you, because you’ll put the book down and make them listen to a blow-by-blow account of everything you just learned in the last few pages.

This is the autobiography of Dr. S. Josephine Baker, the first director of the New York City Bureau of Child Hygiene who is credited with saving at least 90,000 lives because of her work in the public health space. Obviously as a public health nerd who work
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the fascinating autobiography of Dr. Josephine Baker, one of the first women to become a doctor in America, a trailblazer in the field of public health and children's welfare, and an all-around awesome person.

Dr. Baker became famous for her work with poor immigrant children in early 1900s New York. Rather than try to futilely treat all the thousands of children who got sick with communicable diseases in the slums each year, Dr. Baker decided to try a different approach: teaching mothers
I think the best word to describe Fighting for Life is enlightening. Sara Josephine Baker is one of those influential historical figures who was responsible for creating (or contributing to) so many things that we consider normative now. Having nurses in public schools? Using state medicine to prevent illnesses? Articulating that children's health care needs to begin at the prenatal stage? We have Dr. Baker to thank for these and many other innovations. Oh, and she also tracked down Typhoid Mary ...more
Meredith Sell
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First of all, Sara Josephine Baker lived an incredible life. Second of all, she has a totally relatable way of sharing her story.

Originally published in 1939, this autobiography tells firsthand the story of a woman doctor (at a time when that brought strange looks) who engineered the saving of thousands of infant lives in New York City slums at the turn of the century and became the first woman to earn a Doctor of Public Health through the program at NYU (because, when she was asked to lecture
Rick Elinson
Mar 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fantastic autobiography by a fantastic person, who should not have been forgotten by history. Dr. S. Josephine Baker became an MD in 1898, when there were hardly any women MD's. In 1908, she became the first Head of the newly created Bureau of Child Hygiene in New York City, a post that she held for 15 years. Through amazing insight, perseverance, and an understanding of how to obtain support and money, she is credited with saving the lives of 90,000 babies. An important measure was establishm ...more
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Really good. Some of the chapters are a bit meandering in their musings on different experiences in Baker's life, but all together the book comes together quite well to tell a story of a time roughly 100 years ago...that was not so different from today. Baker, writing from the period between the two world wars, reflects on her medical training and her many accomplishments, but ends on a questioning note about humanity and the future, all that is left to accomplish, and what the right path is to ...more
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This engrossing memoir by a woman who was truly a pioneer in the fields of public health and maternal and child health is a must read for anyone interested in those fields. And, although written many decades ago, it is completely relevant to our current debates about health care. The author would be very disappointed, I think, to see how little progress has been made on some of the issues so important to her. A quote that proves this point:

"I have, perhaps unwittingly, done my share to bring sta
Margaret Heller
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, history, health
Josephine Baker's memoir describes her path to becoming a public health pioneer with unstinting honesty. The historical notes in the introduction suggest you'd understand why people wanted to be friends with her after reading the first page, and they are right. She was quite a person, and her measures to improve public health in New York City saved some 90,000 babies.

One of the most compelling questions in the book is why save the lives of babies? Their importance to their parents is given, but
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Written in 1939, the author reviews her life's work as the first woman doctor to head the New York Bureau of Child Hygiene at the turn of the century. Baker is credited with implementing practices that saved the lives of thousands of children. She had to face corruption and graft of Tammany NYC and men who didn't want a woman for a boss. Baker was active in the suffrage movement. She was pro breastfeeding, pro midwives, discouraged highly specialized medicine in favor of general practitioners to ...more
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
no, not that Josephine Baker. I don't even know why my library bought this book - maybe they were confused too - but I'm glad they did. It's the memoir of the woman who pretty much invented the preventive approach to public health in New York city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with childhood nutrition, baby clinics and prenatal care. She became a doctor when women had a hard time getting into medical school, became a cabinet level officer in city administrations where there were no w ...more
Suzanne Skelly
Apr 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
A simply fascinating autobiography written in the late 1930's. S. Josephine Baker was one of the first women in the US to get a medical degree in the early 1900s. She later went on to be a "crusader" for children's health care and the Children's Health Agency in New York City, she also founded herself as one of the early supporters of the Women's Suffrage movement in the US.

This lady was definitely before her time. She is not a great writer, but her true story is a great one that every woman sh
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Written in 1939 by the past head of the Department of Child Hygiene in NYC, this book is an eye-opener in the history of child healthcare in the US. S. Josephine Baker became a doctor and then went into the city healthcare department and basically built it from the ground up. Nearly all US schools have a nurse on site because of this amazing woman.

Baker writes frankly about her life and her struggles. She witnessed the worst in poverty and child care and worked tirelessy to change that. Her stor
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: idlewild
The woman championed preventative care and "saved" 90,000 babies as a result. Really fascinating look at infant healthcare and the start of what seems so common sense nowadays. The bits on her trip to Russia are particularly entertaining. A memoir entirely on her professional experience, I need to find a bio on this woman, because I bet she had a crazy personal life. ...more
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An autobiography of one of the first American female doctors, this book is interesting for many reasons. It depicts the struggles that women faced in gaining acceptance as professionals in the early 1900's, and it shows the deplorable conditions that poor people endured in New York City at that time. ...more
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating book! It wasn't brilliantly written and the timelines were a little blurry, but it was a treat to read about such a successful, brilliant, thoughtful woman. She was first in many areas in her day and responsible for groundbreaking public health policy and practice, much of which we follow to this day. I'm so glad I read this book. ...more
Amber Andrews Thomas
The book started out slow and dull. I stuck with it and fortunately it ended up being a fascinating read.

Dr. Baker wrote the memoir in 1939. As a woman and a physician, she was way ahead of the times and a force to be reckoned with. Dr. Baker should be the role model for young ladies for using her brain instead of some of the women of today that are only known for their butts or breasts.
Tom Wascoe
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Autobiography of an amazing woman. One of the first female physicians in the US and a woman who did an incredible job working on child hygiene in the early 1900's that saved many, many babies lives. Often opinionated but interesting. ...more
Jody Ro
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. Baker provides such an interesting perspective about life in NYC, politics, public health and feminism. The part about Typhoid Mary is the icing on the cake.
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is fantastic! If you have any interest at all in public health, child welfare, feminism, New York City in the early 20th century, this is an amazing, well-written book that's very worth checking out. ...more
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-health
I really enjoyed this book. I'm very interested in public health and learned who S Josephne Baker was in a book about Typhoid Mary. She was a feminist trailblazer who knew how to solve problems and get things done. I love to know the origins of things, and I learned some great stuff from this book! ...more
Kaleena Johnson
Apr 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very interesting read regarding the early days of medicine. And it really is remarkable how much Josephine Baker paved the way for women in the medical field and how much I never knew about all of this history.
Cassie Nespor
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was written by A no-nonsense woman who was part of the beginning of public health in the US. Her insights and opinions on the events of the early 20th century are really interesting.
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NYRB Classics: Fighting for Life, by S. Josephine Baker 2 9 Oct 24, 2013 04:45PM  

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Sara Josephine Baker (November 15, 1873 – February 22, 1945) was an American physician notable for making contributions to public health, especially in New York City.

(from Wikipedia)

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