Richard Philip Baker and Katherine Riedelbauch of Glasford, Illinois
were married there February 22, 1902. At that time RPB was
co-principal of the Anna, Illinois Academy. From what I know of
the curriculum taught in the Academy it was probably comparable to a
Junior College. RPB taught Mathematics and Classics; Kate taught
Music and German. She was a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan
University's School of Music. Their first child was born December
19, 1902. She was named for RPB's favorite sister, Ellen S.
Baker, aka "Nellie" and her maternal grandmother, Frances. In the
summer of 1903 the little Baker family traveled to England so
grandmother Baker could see her first grandchild. Not until
Frances was christened there as Nellie Frances did Aunt Nellie tell
Kate that her given name was Ellen, that Nellie was a nickname.
Bakers stayed in Anna another year, then they moved to Chicago where
RPB was employed by the Donnelly Printing Company as head
chemist. Apartment living was hard on a child although Kate took
her to a nearby park whenever the weather allowed. So it was a
relief when RPB joined the faculty of the State University of Iowa
faculty in 1905. That fall a colleague, thinking to be kind asked
the family to a football game. At the half Frances piped up
"Mama, aren't they going to fight again?"
Frances reached school age the neighborhood school was an overcrowded
two room school heated by stoves. Since Frances was, prone to
colds and chest infections Kate suggested to RPB that they teach her
themselves. This they did until Frances was ready for high school
at age twelve. Kate taught her German and music; RPB English and
mathematics. History was through reading. RPB's idea of
teaching geography was reading Charles Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle."
was already an accomplished pianist when she entered high school in
1915. Her German was good enough so that later in the University
she could enroll in a third year class. In high school she was
active in the school newspaper and year book, becoming editor-in-chief
her senior year. She graduated as valedictorian of her class,
using the name Frances Ellen Baker. She entered the State
University of Iowa, in Iowa City, in the fall of 1919. In
February 1920 she fell a victim of Spanish influenza which was almost
fatal. She was bed-ridden for several weeks resulting in the loss
of a semester's work. She attended summer school and gradually
made up lost credits.
her University career she continued the study of classics, both Latin
and Greek. The University had three distinguished senior prizes,
the Lowden Prizes; one in Latin, one in Greek and one in
Mathematics. All were by examination. Frances won both the
Latin and Greek awards. It was difficult for her to decide on a
major subject as she was an all-round scholar but finely settled on
Mathematics because that was what she wished to teach. As
extra-curricular activities she was active in a Classics Club and in
debating. As part of the University's debating team she traveled to
Washington University, St. Louis, for an inter-collegiate debate which
the Iowa team won handily.
graduated Magna Cum Laude, was a junior Phi Beta Kappa, and elected to
the National Debating Society -- Sigma Delta Rho. Following this
she spent two years working for an MS degree under RPB's
directions. She then decided she wanted to teach rather than to
continue for a PhD. That could come later.
At the end of the summer of 1925 she accepted a teaching position
mathematics and physics at Tabor College, Tabor, Iowa. Tabor was
in the southwest section of the state. The college was an
off-shoot of Grinnell College, Iowa which in turn was an off-shoot of
Oberlin College. It had closed its doors because of financial
troubles but was taken over by the Episcopal Church. Frances
liked her students there as well as the residents of the small town but
unfortunately the Episcopal Church lost interest, withdrew its support,
so for the final spring term of her second year there she was living on
funds from home! RPB was disgusted.
found her teaching in the Jefferson City, Missouri Junior
College. By the end of that year she accumulated enough savings
to plan a trip to Europe. Gladys was to go along courtesy of
"Papa". We crossed the Atlantic on a one-class steamer, the
Minnekada., filled primarily with teachers and students going
abroad. Never will I forget Frances' excitement as we docked at
Plymouth, England on an early June morning. We did not disembark
there but continued on to Calais, France.. where we entrained for
Paris. The tour organized by the Temple Tour Company was
excellent. Our leader was a music professor from the State
University of North Carolina, an excellent leader. The tour
covered France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Holland. We
crossed from there to Harwich, England for a train to London where Aunt
Mary met us. At that point we left the tour.
Somewhere along the way Frances decided she could not face another year
in Jefferson City, Missouri. So she cabled her resignation.
Cables were somewhat unexpected there and the superintendent was so
upset he called RPB, who knew nothing of this but he assured the man
that if Frances said no she meant no.
fall Frances enrolled at S.U.I. to complete studies for a
teaching certificate, accomplished the first semester. She became
a doctoral candidate the following spring quarter at the University of
Chicago. Wanting to be independent she accepted a teaching
position at Creston Junior College, Creston Iowa, where she remained
for two years. She returned to Chicago to complete her studies
for the PhD, awarded the spring of 1934. These were depression
days. No position was available until the second semester of 1935
when she went to Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, as a
substitute faculty member of the Mathematics Department. That fall she
joined the mathematics department of Mt. Holyoke College, South Hadley,
Massachusetts. Although she stayed there seven years they were
not happy ones. KRB who spent a winter with her listened to
her troubles and when Frances asked her what she would do replied
emphatically "I would find another job." She would have, too.
This experience really diminished Frances' spirit and
independence. One of the problems arose from the honor system for
examinations which meant exams were not proctored. After one
examination (possibly a final but of this I am not sure) it was very
clear that one girl had cheated. The honor system required that
faculty report such dishonesty. Being Frances she did. The
result was that Frances was the one chastised, threatened with being
fired. Nothing was done to the student; she was the daughter of a
trustee, unfortunately. This reminds one of the messenger bringing bad
news and having his head chopped off. The other difficulty was a
decidedly jealous chairman, so that after seven years Frances remained
an assistant professor.
this critical point Vassar needed a permanent member for its
Mathematics Department. Mary Wells, the chairman, called Frances
to offer her an associate professorship. So in the fall of 1942
Frances moved back to Poughkeepsie, New York. She remained at
Vassar College until her retirement in 1968 as a full professor.
When Vassar was considering the nonsensical scheme to unite with Yale
University, give up the Poughkeepsie campus, it was Frances who asked
the pertinent question of the visiting Yale professor whose answer gave
everyone at Vassar second thoughts. Frances simply wished to know
if the Vassar mathematics faculty would have the opportunity to
continue teaching in their own fields. The answer "Oh, no, the
Vassar staff would handle only beginning courses." In other words
do the drudgery. The Vassar faculty was disenchanted; the
proposal fell through. Many Vassar Alumnae were so indignant they
changed their wills promptly and never changed them back.
was a dedicated teacher. Although she published her masters
thesis that of the doctorate was never published. Aside from one
or two minor papers her chief contributions during the Vassar years was
writing reviews for the Publication "Choice", of new college
texts. She wrote probably some 50 of these reviews although I
cannot substantiate that. After she moved to Sun City, AZ she
read college texts for "Reading for the Blind". One year she
presented a paper on a subject of long interest for the South West
Association of Mathematics at the University of Arizona,
Flagstaff. It was well received.
biography is included in the Mathematical Historical Section of the
Smithsonian Museum, Washington, DC, as is RPB's. I sent their doctoral
hoods to the Smithsonian along with other documentary records.
Frances was also listed in some editions of "Who's Who in America",
Marquis Publications, Chicago Illinois. During her Vassar
teaching days she also lectured at other institutions. A list of
these is appended.
several years she lived in her own home in Sun City, AZ. After
her health began to fade she lived in several intermediate care centers
and finally in a nursing home. She died April 4, 1995 at age
92. She is buried in the family plot in Iowa City, Iowa.
Gladys E. Baker January 12, 2000