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Joan E. Baker ’53

A picture of Joan Baker

Joan E. Baker ’53, December 10, 2012, in Cleveland, Ohio, from a brain tumor. Joan and her sister, Lois Baker Janzer ’50, took English from the same teacher at West Seattle High School in Washington—“a wonderful, wonderful teacher, named Belle McKenzie”—who urged them both to go to Reed. At Reed, Joan served as editor of the literary magazine she named Janus. Produced via typewriter and mimeograph, the popular publication sold out in a day at 10¢ a copy. She included writing by William Dickey ’51, Gary Snyder ’51, Philip Whalen ’51, and Mary Mathisson MacKenzie ’53, bound in covers by artists like Charles Leong ’53. Joan also painted faculty houses, babysat and mowed lawns for faculty, and varnished the tables and booths in the coffee shop. She earned a BA in general literature with Lloyd Reynolds [English & art 1929–69] as her adviser. A year out of college, she worked for the National Hells Canyon Association. In an interview in 2004, she said: “I had a board of 29 people, labor leaders, farm leaders, public power leaders, and all that. Very, very interesting. But I did all the work. All of it.” The work included writing and producing a newsletter, writing letters, and even writing speeches for local senators. “That’s what led me into law, inadvertently. Because later on, there was another Federal Power Commission case, involving the potential Nez Perce Dam, which would have blocked the Salmon River. The head lawyer on that case asked me to come back to Washington and work with the lawyers who were working on that case. So I did.” Joan also worked for the national Democratic Party and the American Public Power Association. She earned a JD from George Washington University and an LLM from Yale University, and was the first woman clerk for any of the male judges then in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition, she was the first female professor of law at the University of Akron, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Colorado, Boulder. She found that heated interactions with male faculty and administrators overrode the positive experience she had with students, and she was confronted by challenges related to her worth and also by malice. Denied tenure at Colorado, she left to be an academic visitor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and then accepted a position at Cleveland State University in Marshall, where she worked for 20 years. “I decided that it would be Cleveland-Marshall, because there were three women already on the faculty, and I figured I deserved some company after six years of being the first woman.” She retired from Cleveland as professor emerita and provided academic support for students for two years. In her public obituary, we read: “Joan was much loved and revered for her exceptional brilliance and generosity. She encouraged her students, family, and friends to reach for the stars.” Survivors include Lois, and nieces, including Katy Izquierdo ’75, and nephews.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2013

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