During our field research trip in spring 2017, our team visited the Paris campus of the Association Henri Rollet, a group which provides shelter and support to underprivileged young women. This quaint, verdant space is a welcome oasis from the chaos and excitement of the city that surrounds it. Within the campus walls stands a red-brick dormitory that bears the name of Katherine Baker, Bucknell Institute Class of 1892. To finally see a monument to the woman I had been researching for a year was surreal.
I selected Katherine Baker as “my” Bucknellian because I was so fascinated with her story. She held many titles: suffragette, writer, educational reformist and lawyer. But she is best remembered for her work in France as a nurse during the Great War and her role in establishing an orphanage for the children whose lives were touched by the war, which has evolved into the modern-day Association Henri Rollet. It was comforting to see she is still being honored in a very tangible way by an organization that provides aid to Parisian youth.
Her commitment to providing care to the wounded earned her a military title, making her the first woman to achieve the rank of corporal in her regiment’s history. The French Army also presented her with the Croix de Guerre, an award for heroism.
Baker paid the ultimate price for her passion and devotion to the men she aided. French hospitals were overcrowded and understaffed, and she fell ill as a result of overwork. Baker died in September 1919. The Red Cross recognized her selflessness and suggested that she posthumously receive the title “Outstanding Heroine of the World War.”
War is often what defines those who serve in it; ordinary people become heroes through their service, and rightfully so. However, Katherine Baker volunteered not for glory or recognition — both of which she obtained — but for her genuine desire to aid those in need. I chose a person who was not a soldier to be the subject of my research, because I feel it is important to acknowledge the contributions of those who did not fight. Bucknell sent many soldiers to battle, but our alumni also served as nurses and ambulance drivers, and I feel that we should honor them just as we do our veterans. Men and women, soldiers and aid workers, they are all Bucknellians, and they are all worthy of recognition.