Josephine R. Baker

Born 1 November 1837 in Westbrook, Connecticut, Josephine Amelia Ruggles was the oldest child of Albert Ruggles (ca1810 - 27 Sept. 1864) and Mercy Amelia Kirtland (24 September 1815 - ). Of her seven siblings, only four survived childhood: her brother John Benjamin, younger by a year; two additional brothers, Allen Albert (b. 01 July 1843) and Samuel Kirtland (b. 06 Nov. 1844), and a sister, Susan Emily, eleven years her junior. One sister, born when Josephine was almost four, lived only two days; another, born in August 1850, barely eighteen months. A brother, ten years younger, died in 1855, when he was eight. Thus, she grew up largely surrounded by brothers and with an awareness of the presence of childhood death -- and possibly with reversal of fortunes as well. Census records show her father engaged in several occupations -- in 1850, as an innkeeper, in Bolton, Tolland County, Connecticut, with $2500 worth of property; in 1860, however, as a carpenter, with only $500 in personal property. Her brother John, still living at home, was also working as a carpenter in 1860, presumably helping the family finances.

Josephine's father died 27 September 1864. Two years later, on 22 July 1866, she married Henry Edson Baker; the marriage took place two days before Henry's fortieth birthday. (Josephine was twenty-eight.) Henry was the grandson of William Francis Baker, a veteran of the Revolutionary War: one source notes that he joined the 4th Connecticut Regiment "after the battle of Lexington . . . [and] served at siege of Boston and at Battle of Bunker Hill." Their first child, Albert R., was born in January, 1868; their second son, Richard H., in October 1870. The 1870 census found them still in Connecticut, but in Hartford, where Henry was working as a cabinet maker and had accrued a personal estate valued at $800. Also sharing the household were Amelia Ruggles, age 44, and Abigail Parmalee, age 82. They appear to be relations -- Parmalee had been living with Josephine's family in the 1860 census -- and it's possible that Amelia was actually Josephine's widowed mother, with an error in recording her age. Ten years later, the household -- still in Hartford -- consisted only of the immediate family, but Henry was now working in a railroad shop.

Sunday Afternoon magazine cover

Baker's first two books appeared in 1879, issued by the Boston firm of H. Hoyt. Seven years later came Dear Gates, One of the Gates Children the first title in her two volume series, followed by Roundtop and Squaretop, the Gates Twins in 1887. Both were published by the Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society, which also issued the only other book currently identified as her work, Gee's Trap; or, The Lambs and Field Street (1895), almost a decade later. During this period Baker was also writing for periodicals: two of her books, "Tom's Heathen" and "Calvin the Sinner," were both serialized in Sunday Afternoon in 1878-79; an ad for the 1880 Christian Union included her name among the authors whose stories would be featured that summer; a partial index of the Connecticut Quarterly at FictionMags also shows an 1897 story, "The Fair Trader’s Voyage; A Tale of Rocky Hill a Hundred Years Ago.”

Some time prior to 1900, Josephine Baker was widowed. She remained in Hartford, living with her two sons. The 1900 census listed her as the head of the household -- and showed her occupation as "authoress," a change from the previous decades, in which she had been "keeping house." That census also established that she had had only two children, both of whom were also writers, working as journalists.

Circa 1905, she moved to Boston to live with her oldest son Albert and his family; he had continued his career in journalism and was now a newspaper editor. Josephine R. Baker died at her son's home in Boston in March, 1913, and was buried in Windsor, Connecticut.


Some information about the family is from the genealogies at "The Kirtland Connection" (now apparently offline) and My Genealogy Web as well as Steve Ruggles Genealogy Home Page. Additional sources include Charles E. Francis, Francis: Descendants of Robert Francis of Wethersfield, Conn. (New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., 1906), census records, and Baker's obituary in the Boston Globe.

Copyright 2009 by Deidre Johnson. Please do not reproduce without permission

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