Marguerite Elton Baker
Guy Lochhead, 24/08/10
Born into a wealthy, prejudiced, banking family, Baker rebelled by socialising with people of a ‘lower social class’. She married young, against her mother’s wishes, aged 23, but was widowed a few years later. Baker was left a single mother with her husband’s debt. Attempts to pay off the loans by renting rooms in the family home were unsuccessful, so became a journalist, writing about gender equality in wartime labour. She wanted to write about Germany, but was denied the opportunity because she was a woman. She decided, then, to be a spy. From 1918 to the mid-‘20s, Baker travelled all over the world, was held captive, worked as an aid worker, and as a spy. In 1925, she helped fund and produce ‘Grass’ – one of the first ethnographical films – about the migration of the Bakhtari, a nomadic Iranian tribe. At the time of the film’s release, women were excluded from membership of many professional geographical organizations. This led to her co-founding the Society of Women Geographers in 1925. She also founded the Children’s Hospital of Baltimore, her native city. She lived there for the rest of her life, but continued to travel well into her eighties. One of the most incredible lives I’ve ever read. I will include the DVD release of ‘Grass’ – significant in cinematic and geographical history – next to her autobiography ‘There’s Always Tomorrow: The Story Of A Checkered Life’. Shockingly, the autobiography hasn’t been reprinted since its first issuing in 1935. Perhaps I should also try to get it reprinted…

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