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Fighting for Life


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S. JOSEPHINE BAKER (1873-1945) was a pioneering American public health physician and the first director of New York's Bureau of Child Hygiene. Her work with poor mothers and children in the immigrant communities of New York City had a dramatic impact on maternal and child mortality rates and became a model for cities across the country. On two occasions she helped to track down the infamous "Typhoid Mary," the cook who had spread the disease while working in several New York households. The first woman to earn a doctorate in public health from New York University-Bellevue Hospital Medical School, Baker wrote fifty journal articles and more than two hundred pieces for the popular press about issues in preventive medicine, as well as six books: Healthy Babies (1920), Healthy Mothers (1920), Healthy Children (1920), The Growing Child (1923), Child Hygiene (1925), and her autobiography, Fighting for Life (1939). HELEN EPSTEIN is an independent consultant and writer specializing in public health in developing countries, and an adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. She has advised numerous organizations, including the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF. She writes frequently for various publications, including The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and Granta, and is the author of The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa.


"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." --The New York Times

"Dr. Baker shines not only for her contributions to public health and social policy, but also for her work as a woman in government administration, supervising a staff that included many male physicians. Her work made her a leading figure in public health and the New York City Bureau of Child Hygiene became a model for similar programs in other cities, as well as for the United States Children's Bureau." --U.S. National Library of Medicine "Rather than spending her time swanning about town, Josephine Baker became a pioneer, dedicating her life to the field of preventive health care for children." --Anthony Bourdain

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