San Diego’s first female doctor
Massachusetts born in 1855, Charlotte Johnson was a happy tomboy raised in privilege to attend Vassar College, then medical school at the University of Michigan becoming an obstetrician. Her residency at a women’s penitentiary set a lifelong interest to improve conditions for women and girls. Following graduation, Charlotte married classmate Fred Baker and the newlyweds lived briefly in Akron before malaria drove them west.
The pioneer doctors settled in New Mexico (building their own structures by hand) prior to moving here in 1888 to provide a more civilized life for their young children. The Bakers immediately joined the SD County Medical Society and she established the Woman’s Home Association. They were the first husband and wife physician team in town, working at St. Joseph’s Hospital where “Dr. Charlotte” practiced obstetrics and gynecology, delivering 1,000 babies and never lost a mother.
Politically active, she became the first woman president of the SD County Medical Society, headed the San Diego Civil Service Commission and the temperance union. With Anna (George) Marston and Rose (Aubrey) Davidson, Dr. Charlotte founded the YWCA and served as president of the local Equal Suffrage Association. By paying taxes on property, food and clothes, women contributed to government revenues, but were denied voting rights (taxation without representation). The activist led the 1911 suffrage campaign and educated San Diego’s backcountry from a decorated automobile with Mrs. Ella Allen, whose daughter Eleanor drove, and Miss Lydia Harris. Their efforts distributing literature and sharing views made the difference in SD County passing the amendment.
Dr. Charlotte also shared a common interest in education, woman and science with Ellen Browning Scripps and Dr. Mary Ritter. Mary and Charlotte gladly supplied Miss Scripps with information and provided plenty of suggestions for projects in need of contributions. This relationship strengthened all three. Miss Scripps had eyes into the community; Drs. Baker and Ritter gained the prestige of being known as friends of a wealthy philanthropist; while their physician husbands (and Ellen’s brother E.W. Scripps) often received the credit for their good efforts while deflecting criticism from the ladies’ progressive charities.