No, not Josephine Baker the exotic dancer and femme fatale. This was Josephine Baker the doctor, a solidly built turn-of-the-century New York physician who carried off a series of groundbreaking accomplishments — and was unfailingly amused at the constant confusions between herself and the sexy young Parisian entertainer of the same name.
Baker was the first director of a children’s public health agency, and the first woman to get a doctorate in public health. She tangled repeatedly with Typhoid Mary. More important, her ideas saved thousands of lives and permanently changed the focus and mission of public health. Her just-reissued 1939 autobiography proves to be one of those magical books that reaches effortlessly through time, as engaging and as thought-provoking as if it were written now.
Sara Josephine Baker was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1873,