Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Ida Agnes Baker, 1859-1921
By Tina Gianoulis, freelance writer and researcher
Founding faculty member of Western Washington University, co-founder Women's Good Government League; historian, Washington Equal Suffrage Association; president, Women's Suffrage Club of Whatcom County
Ida Agnes Baker was born on November 6, 1859 in Pella, Iowa, the daughter of John S. Baker and Minerva Garret Baker. Her mother was a schoolteacher and naturalist who established a bird sanctuary on the family farm, and under her influence, Baker developed a lifelong passion for preserving the natural environment. She attended Central College in Pella, earning her bachelor's of science degree in 1878 and her Master of Arts in 1882. In 1899 she moved to Bellingham, Washington, where she became one of the first nine teachers at Whatcom Normal School, which later became Western Washington University. She taught forestry, grammar, and music for twenty years, and became a beloved and influential member of the faculty. Baker died suddenly on January 29, 1921, when she was struck by a streetcar while walking home from a meeting of the League of Women Voters on a rainy night.
When Baker moved to Washington, she was already an active proponent of women suffrage. The June 1899 issue of the National Suffrage Bulletin (vol.4, no. 10), mentions two articles written by Baker, "Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Her Work" and "A Woman's Life in 1812 and 1899," which they recommended for use in evening discussion programs.
In Bellingham, Baker was close friends with her fellow teacher, suffragist, and environmental activist Catherine Montgomery (1867-1957). In addition to their work to secure the vote for women, the two shared a love of nature and took frequent long hikes in the nearby mountains. In the mid-1920s, Montgomery was instrumental in launching the plan to develop the Pacific Crest Trail. Baker and Montgomery also joined forces in 1900 to help found the Progressive, Literary, and Fraternal (P.L.F.) Club, an organization dedicated to increasing the political influence of women. #x200e
In 1906, Baker spoke at a state suffrage convention spearheaded by leading Washington state suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe (1848-1927). The following year, she helped organize the first suffrage group in Bellingham, the Women's Suffrage Club of Whatcom County, and was elected its first president. In 1910 she became historian of the statewide Washington Equal Suffrage Association. After women gained the right to vote in the state of Washington in 1910, Baker helped organize the Bellingham chapter of the Women's Good Government League, a national group devoted to promoting reform and combating political corruption.
In addition to her work for women's rights, Baker was also an early environmental activist, publishing influential articles on such topics as "Recreation in the Federal Forest Reserves" (1917) and "The Tent Caterpillar, Nature Study and Civic Improvement" (1919) in journals such as American Forests and The Nature-study Review. The fall 1920 issue of The Audubon Bulletin profiled Baker's teaching methods for introducing her students to the study of birds.
In 1920, Baker was elected temporary chairman of the Bellingham chapter of the Committee of 48, a progressive group which was formed in 1919 in hopes of establishing a third U.S. political party dedicated to egalitarian reform and "social reconstruction." (The Committee of 48 pamphlets) She was also an active member of the Business and Professional Women's Club and the League of Women Voters.#x200e
After Baker's untimely death in 1921, Whatcom Normal School honored her by establishing a bird sanctuary in her name. In 2008, Baker received the YWCA Northwest's Women's Hall of Fame Legacy Award in acknowledgment of her contributions to the struggle for women suffrage and the movement to protect the environment. #x200e
Harper, Ida Husted, editor. History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, vol. 6. New York: J.J. Little and Ives, 1923. [LINK]
Larabee, Mark and Barney Scout Mann. The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail. New York: Rizzoli, 2016.
The Committee of Forty-Eight: For a Conference of Americans Who Are Equally Opposed to Reaction and Violent Revolution: Its Purposes -- And the Reasons for It. New York: Committee of 48, 1919. Available online at https://archive.org/details/TheCommitteeOfForty-eightForAConferenceOfAmericans (accessed April 21, 2018)
Yearbook and List of Active Members of the National Education Association of the United States, National Education Association of the United States, 1902.
Baker, Ida Agnes. "The Tent Caterpillar, Nature Study and Civic Improvement." The Nature-study Review, vol. 15, no. 2, February 1919, pp. 58-61.
Baker, Ida Agnes. "Recreation in the Federal Forest Reserves" American Forests, vol. 23, no. 284, August 1917, pp. 459-464.
"Bird Study at a Normal School." The Audubon Bulletin, fall 1920, p. 28.
"Charter Discussed by Equal Suffragists. Permanent Organization Affected by Club." Bellingham Herald, December 2, 1907, p. 3.
"Final Tribute is Paid Miss Ida Agnes Baker, Faculty Member, Goes to Rest." Bellingham Herald, February 2, 1921, p. 4.
"From the Churches." The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 30, no. 1, January 1921, p. 124.
"'Liberals' Convene ‘Committee of 48.'" Bellingham Herald, Tuesday, May 4, 1920, p.6.
"Normal Pays Tribute to Departed Faculty Member Funeral Service for Ida Agnes Baker, Killed." Bellingham Herald, January 31, 1921, p. 5.
"The World is Advancing. Advance with It." Bellingham Herald, April 15, 1905, p.13.
I would like to thank Cindy L. Carroll for sharing her research on Baker's life with me through email correspondence.