Alice Baker, nee Shaw, was a prominent Melburnian, a philanthropist and a champion of women's causes. She generously gave her time and her money to a variety of charities, and in 1933 was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for her services to Victoria.
Born in 1855, Alice grew up in Raymond Terrace in New South Wales, and lived in Queensland before settling in Melbourne, Victoria in about 1881, where she lived until her death in 1935.
Alice Baker was born in 1855 to William and Emma Shaw. Her father William was the Postmaster at Raymond Terrace in NSW. In 1877, when she was aged twenty-two, Alice married Thomas Baker in Maryborough, Queensland.
The same year, her brother Alfred became apprenticed to her husband as a Chemist and Druggist, for 4 years. It appears that the three of them stayed in Queensland until the indenture was completed, then they all moved south and settled in Melbourne, Victoria. Alice lived in Victoria until her death in 1935.
The Bakers had no children, but Alice's unmarried sister Eleanor Shaw was the Baker's constant companion in Melbourne. Eleanor lived and travelled together with the Bakers as extended family. Alice's brother Alfred Shaw also lived with the Bakers for a time, at Yarra Grange.
Alice's husband Thomas Baker was a chemist who became a successful entrepreneur manufacturing and retailing photographic goods. His initial business made dry plates for photography under his own name, then he established a retail partnership with John Joseph Rouse, known as Baker & Rouse, which later merged with Eastman Kodak to eventually become Kodak Australasia. During the establishment of his first business, Alice reportedly assisted her husband with selling and processing the plates.
The Bakers became notably wealthy from their involvement in the photographic industry, particularly after Thomas became a significant shareholder and chief managing director of Kodak. Over time the couple became active and influential members of Melbourne society, particularly in the arena of intellectual and public service. Thomas Baker became involved in Rotary and the Alfred Hospital, while Alice Baker was associated with the National Council of Women and the Austral Salon.
A Champion of Women's Causes
Alice served as the Victorian President of the National Council of Women for three years. She also represented Australia twice at overseas conferences of the International Council of Women, including at the 1909 Toronto, Canada meeting, when she attended as the Victorian National Council of Women chapter Vice-President.
In 1927 Alice was made an honorary Vice-President of the National Council of Women for life, in recognition of her invaluable efforts and ongoing contributions, which included providing financial support. At a lunch of the National Council of Women executive at the Lyceum Club, on the day of her golden wedding anniversary, Alice was presented with a gold monogrammed badge for special service.
Alice was also a vice-president of the Austral Salon, a club for women interested in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and had been treasurer in 1895. There was a close association between the National Council of Women of Victoria and the Austral Salon, with the Salon being one of the first few groups to affiliate with the National Council of Women. The National Council also sometimes met at the Austral Salon rooms.
Alice and her sister Eleanor Shaw hosted various 'At Homes' for the Salon at Yarra Grange in the 1890s and 1900s. These usually involved a musical programme, a recital, short papers and refreshments. In 1898 Alice and Eleanor introduced a new feature of having a short paper that others responded to, which "pleased the thinking portion of the Salon".
The Bakers and Eleanor Shaw generously supported many charitable organisations together. Most notable were their donations to the Alfred Hospital and the eventual establishment of a biochemistry and medical research department there: 'The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute', now known as the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. Through their wills, the three benefactors also established a trust for the ongoing funding of medical research at the Baker Institute.
While Alice, her husband and her sister gave to many causes together, Alice also had her own particular philanthropic interests, particularly after Thomas passed away in 1928. As was frequently the case for women philanthropists in this era, Alice's charity focused especially on the support of women and children.
For instance, in June 1894, Alice Baker and her sisters hosted an evening of entertainment for the Richmond and East Melbourne creche at her home 'Yarra Grange'. Table Talk reported on it, calling it a distinct success" and stated that "it must be gratifying to that lady, who is ever ready to help in the cause of charity, that her efforts. met with such ready response." This particular event took place in the Yarra Grange ballroom and there was apparently a large and fashionable crowd in attendance. The entertainment included tableaux vivants, recitations, vocal and instrumental music, including mandolin and guitar. Alice Baker was noted as having sung the explanatory songs for the tableaux.
Such events were more than simply charitable, they served an important social role for women of Alice Baker's status and allowed them to participate with influence in public life.
Some of the charities which Alice was a benefactor of included the Queen Victoria Women's hospital in Melbourne, the Melbourne District Nursing Society, the Talbot Colony for Epileptics in Clayton, the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, the Salvation Army, the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, various Missions to the streets of Melbourne, artificial limb charities, Anzac House, YMCA, Lord Mayor's Hospital and Charities Fund, and the Newsboys Society. Alice also donated a cottage by the seaside to allow nurses from the Royal College of Nursing and those working public hospitals to rest from their duties.
As well as ongoing support to medical research at the Alfred Hospital, Alice's will also outlined the donation of annuities of fifty pounds each to the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne, to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Melbourne, and to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in Melbourne. She also directed her residuary estate to scientific or public educational purposes, or to a public hospital or public benevolent institution.
Alice's many charitable efforts were recognised in the 1933 New Year's Honours List, when she was created a Commander in the Order of the British Empire. She was described by the Age newspaper as "responsible for much unostentatious benevolence. She was a generous woman, anxious always to help others, and to help women in particular."
A Long Life
Alice Baker died at the age of 80 on March 20 in 1935, at her home in South Yarra. The pallbearers at her funeral included Dr JF Mackeddie from the Alfred Hospital, who was a close friend of her and her husband and involved in the establishment of the Baker and Shaw Medical Research Institute, as well as John Sutherland, a director of Kodak Australasia and representative of Melbourne Rotary Club, and Mr Slocombe, a former Kodak manager.
Age, 22 March 1935, p.11.
Agenda for the Quinquennial Sessions of the ICW, Toronto, Canada, June 1909, Rosemount Press, pp.12-13;.
Argus, 22 March 1935, p.8; 11 October 1900, p.1.
Australasian, 29 March 1919, p.38; 4 September 1920, p.47; 5 March 1904, p.44.
Australasian Photo Review, 14 January 1933, p8; 1 April 1935, pp.1, 164.
The Austral Salon of Music, Literature and the Arts - Organisation - The Australian Women's Register (womenaustralia.info).
Australian Woman's Mirror, 24 January 1933, p.20.
Baker Institute Archives, Indenture of Alfred Shaw as an apprentice Chemist to Thomas Baker 1877.
Bulletin, 11 January 1933, p.33.
Beale, N, (no date). History of Kodak, Kodak Heritage Collection, Museum Victoria.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, de Serville, P (1979), 'Thomas Baker (1854 - 1928) Biographical Entry'
Herald, 27 January 1927, p.12; 6 June 1929, p.19
Lowe, T (1974). The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute: The First Fifty Years, Trustees of the Institute, Melbourne, pp.9-10.
Mercury (Hobart), 17 August 1909 p.6.
Museums Victoria Kodak Heritage Collection, HT 54030.6, Income Tax Documents - Donation Receipts, Mrs Alice Baker, 1935; HT 54030.2, Income Tax Documents - Receipts & Dividends Information, Mrs. Alice Baker, Australia, 1933-1934.
Punch, 26 July 1906, p.30.
Table Talk, 8 December 1894, p.7; 22 June 1894, p.15; 9 August 1895, p.5; 1 July 1898, p.11.