Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Dr. Charlotte Johnson Baker, 1855-1937
By Sophia Roque, Undergraduate Student
San Jose State University, San Jose, California
Charlotte LeBreton Johnson was born on March 30, 1855 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. She attended Vassar College in 1873 and graduated with a B.A. in 1877. Baker received her M.D. in 1881 from the University of Michigan. Baker worked alongside Dr. Eliza Mosher in the Women's Reformatory Prison. In 1882, she married Dr. Frederick Baker, and the two physicians lived in Ohio and New Mexico before moving to San Diego in 1888 where her suffrage work truly began. Despite the difficulties women faced in education and the medical field, Baker became the first woman president of the San Diego Medical Society. She also was committed to the cause of suffrage as the president of San Diego's Equal Suffrage Association. Baker was an avid, life-long committed champion for general health and women's rights during the early twentieth century.
Baker was active in her community as president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and a founder of the Woman's Home Association and Day Nursery. Baker was also a co-founder and president of the San Diego YWCA. She advocated for the overall advancement of the rights of women and was also active in the suffrage movement. On April 6, 1896. Baker participated in the massive California state suffrage convention. She spoke on the issue of equal suffrage alongside such dignitaries as Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, the first female Methodist minister in the United States and later president of NAWSA in 1906.
After the unsuccessful 1896 state suffrage campaign, Baker continued to fight for suffrage. She served as president of San Diego's Equal Suffrage Association from before 1905 through 1912. Baker was elected to represent the San Diego Equal Suffrage Association at the 41st National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention in July 1909. She was one of the 2,000 women who participated in the Women's Suffrage Day in Seattle, Washington. There, she reunited with Anna Howard Shaw and met Florence Kelley. In 1911 before the California referendum, Baker launched the "Week of Self Denial" campaign, where women were encouraged to abstain "from car rides, candy, soda, theatres, excursions, ribbons, laces, and everything claimed not necessities" for at least a week. The strategy proved to be an effective way to raise funds for the campaign.
California voted to approve woman's suffrage on October 1911. After the election results were in, Baker received a phone call from the City Clerk who asked her to register to vote. Baker hoped to be the first woman in San Diego to register but Baker arrived at the polling place later than expected and became the second woman to vote after Estelle W. Kirk. Recalling the successful 1911 campaign for equal suffrage, Baker delightfully expressed that, the campaign was one of the "high spots in her life" and that "it was a great triumph for justice and right."
Forrest Warren interviewed the Bakers for an article in the San Diego Union in 1933. Baker genuinely admitted, "If I had my life to live again I would not alter my course unless I fight harder." Baker died in San Diego on October 31, 1937. Throughout her life, Baker faced many adversities, such as the death of family members, personal illnesses, and failed suffrage attempts, yet she still persisted in her commitment to the advancement of women's rights. Baker remains one of the most underrated suffragist champions of the early twentieth century.
Baker, Charlotte. "Woman Suffragists Not Dismayed." San Diego Union. 3 November 1907.
Charlotte Baker Diary Collection. MS 173. San Diego History Center Document Collection. San Diego, CA.
"Federation of Women's Clubs, Notable Paper by Dr. Charlotte Baker." San Diego Union. 28 October 1904. Sec. II, 7.
Kneeland, Marilyn. "The Modern Boston Tea Party, The San Diego Suffrage Campaign of 1911."Journal of San Diego History 23, no. 4 (Fall 1977).
"She Would Only Fight Harder in Living Long Life Over Again, Dr. Charlotte Baker Declares." San Diego Union. 03 December 1933, 5.
Willard, Frances Elizabeth. American Women: Fifteen Hundred Biographies with Over 1,400. New York: Mast. Cromwell & Kirkpatrick, 1897. [LINK]