Fighting for Life (New York Review Books Classics)
S. Josephine Baker
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New York’s Lower East Side was said to be the most densely populated square mile on earth in the 1890s. Health inspectors called the neighborhood “the suicide ward.” Diarrhea epidemics raged each summer, killing thousands of children. Sweatshop babies with smallpox and typhus dozed in garment heaps destined for fashionable shops. Desperate mothers paced the streets to soothe their feverish children and white mourning cloths hung from every building. A third of the children living there died before their fifth birthday.
By 1911, the child death rate had fallen sharply and The New York Times hailed the city as the healthiest on earth. In this witty and highly personal autobiography, public health crusader Dr. S. Josephine Baker explains how this transformation was achieved. By the time she retired in 1923, Baker was famous worldwide for saving the lives of 90,000 children. The programs she developed, many still in use today, have saved the lives of millions more. She fought for women’s suffrage, toured Russia in the 1930s, and captured “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, twice. She was also an astute observer of her times, and Fighting for Life is one of the most honest, compassionate memoirs of American medicine ever written.
secret display of thrilling skepticism. When Mother returned, she always heard only that Aunt Abby had been reading us Bible stories. We all continued regularly to go to Sunday school without rebellion, but it was hardly possible for us to take much stock in Jonah and the whale from that time on. It would probably be hard to exaggerate the influence that sort of experience may have on a child, learning so early that it is possible to question the unquestionable. We were thoroughly impressed but,
instinct; he was in the way and not fit to live anyhow and I had taken the first handy means of getting rid of him. I was not sorry; I was not glad either—it had just been part of the exigencies of this particular job. Well, I thought, as calmly as I could, there is the end of your medical career and probably jail to follow. By the time I reached the head of the stairs on my way out, however, I did comprehend that the body was down in the hall and that something probably ought to be done about
again to let me have the specimens, but it was of no use. By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had never had typhoid fever; she was maniacal in her integrity. There was nothing I could do but take her with us. The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital; it was like being in a cage with an angry lion. The hospital laboratories speedily proved that Mary was as
first half-hour she chose to discuss the English governmental system, not a lively subject at best and practically unintelligible to most Americans even if it were exciting. I felt, and could tell that the rest of the committee felt, sick at heart. Yet it was curiously true that, dull as the content of her speech was and mousy as her manner might seem, she was holding the attention of those thousands of women, even those in the rear of the hall who may well have been having trouble hearing. Then
George, 173, 174 Newsholme, Sir Arthur, 173 Nineteenth Amendment, 200 Nose-and-throat hospitals, 142 Noyes, Clara, 46 O’Neill’s, 19 Open-Air Classes, 161, 162 Pankhurst, Christabel, 197 Pankhurst, Emmeline, 189, 190 Pastor, Tony, 18 Perkins, Frances, 82 Philadelphia College of Physicians, 188, 189 Poliomyelitis, 165, 166 Poughkeepsie, New York, 2, 5, 7, 10, 23, 51, 196 Powell, Mary, 17, 19 Pre-school child, 160 Princeton, New Jersey, 14 Proctor’s Theatre, 38 Riis,