American Medical Biographies/Baker, Frank

Baker, Frank (1841–1918)

Frank Baker, anatomist, was born in Pulaski, New York, August 22, 1841. His ancestors were English, settled in New England, and identified themselves with their new home and fought in the War of the Revolution. His father was Thomas C. Baker and his mother Sybil S. Weed. Frank served in the 37th New York Volunteers 1861–1863, then was transferred to Washington; later he entered government service. He received his medical degree from Columbia University, which also gave him an A. M. in 1888 and Ph. D. in 1890. From 1883 to 1918 he was professor of anatomy in the Medical School of Georgetown University. In 1889 he was made assistant superintendent of the United States Life Saving Service and in 1890 superintendent of the National Zoological Park, District of Columbia, serving until 1916. He was a founder of the biological, anthropological and medical history societies of Washington and was president of the Association of American Anatomists (1897), the Anthropological Society of Washington (1897–1898), the Medical History Club of Washington (1915–1916), and secretary of the Washington Academy of Sciences (1890–1911). He was editor of the American Anthropologist from 1891 to 1898, and collaborated with John S. Billings in the "Medical Dictionary" (1890); he gave the definitions of medical and anatomical terms in the Standard Dictionary (1890), and contributed anatomical articles to Wood's "Reference Handbook of the Medical Sciences," and to the "International Cyclopedia."

Baker wrote two papers on President Garfield's case (1881–1882), showing "that the wound was caused by the second bullet and its course had been correctly diagnosed in a well accredited diagram made two days after the event." Other writings were: "The Rational Method of Teaching Anatomy" (1884); "What Is Anatomy?" (1887), "Anthropological Notes on the Human Hand" (1888); "Primitive Man" (1899).

Dr. Baker's monograph on the "History of Anatomy" published in Stedman's Handbook compares favorably with the well-known article of Sir William Turner (Encyclopaedia Britannica) which has remained the ranking contribution in English. His contributions to medical history include "The Two Sylviuses" (1900) and "The Relation of Vesalius to Anatomical Illustration" (1915), read before the Historical Club of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Baker had collected a valuable library on anatomy which was divided after his death between the library of the surgeon-general's office and the medical library of McGill University. He had a set of lantern slides selected from the earlier books, generously lent on occasion.

Dr. Baker was of goodly height and presence. His fine head was remarkably like that of some of the great anatomists of the past, notably Quain and Sir Richard Owen. He had a lively sense of humor and his pleasant, affable, quizzical ways endeared him to all. As a teacher he believed that the proper place for instruction is the dissecting room; his lectures were humanistic, historical, morphological, of ample scope, set off by demonstrations on the cadaver, which he performed himself. After the death of Dr. Robert Fletcher he was probably the most erudite physician in Washington. In his early days, while in the government service, he was intimate with Walt Whitman and John Burroughs.

Dr. Baker married Mary E. Cole of Sedgewick, Maine, in 1873; she survived him with six children, one of whom, Colonel Frank C. Baker, served in the Great War.

He died at his home about September 30, 1918.

N. Y. Med. Jour., 1918, CVIII, 859. (F. H. Garrison.)