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Baker, Ida Emma Fitch

Main entryBaker, Ida Emma Fitch
Birth placeNorwich Township, Oxford, Ontario
Birth date22 December 1858
Death placeToronto, Ontario
Death date19 November 1948
Birth nameIda Emma Fitch
Married nameBaker
Marital statusmarried
Religious affiliationBaptist
Other workclergyman's wife
BiographyIda Emma Fitch Baker (1858-1948) and her twin sister, Eva Rose Fitch York (1858-1938), inherited a tradition of religious service from their New England and United Empire Loyalist forebears. Her many poems, plays, and stories reflect the cultural milieu of a clergyman's daughter and wife. She met her husband, Jacob Johnson Baker (1854-1947), while studying literature, art, and music at the Canadian Literary Institute, later to become Woodstock College, and married him in 1881. With her husband she shared the peripatetic life of a Baptist minister. When he changed from preaching to teaching she followed him to the new settlement of Raymond, Alberta and then to Calgary where they raised their family of three boys and one girl (who died at the age of eighteen). Everywhere she lived she devoted herself to the poor, establishing schools and hospitals and writing didactic stories for children, few of which were published. However, she did manage to publish six volumes of verse, one novel, several religious treatises, and two volumes of plays. Eventually the Bakers returned to Ontario where Jacob became a professor at McMaster University. After her death, her son, literary critic Ray Palmer Baker, edited her SELECTED POEMS (1951). Ida died in 1948, a year after her husband, and was buried in a plot with Jacob, daughter Alice, and sister Eva at Baker Hill Cemetery in Whitchurch, York County, Ontario.
Other notesA great-great granddaughter, Grace Eagan, has transcribed a number of family letters written primarily between Ida and Jacob prior to their marriage (the one being based at a nursing position in a home, while the other studies at University). Much of what Ida writes (in the letters currently available online) concerns her reluctance to enter into matrimony with Jacob because of his calling to the Ministry, her qualms arising directly from the "bitter humiliation and sorrow" she feels at watching the unhappy dissolution of her own parents' marriage. She cannot bear the thought of suffering like her mother. While Jacob consistently asks for her hand, Ida struggles to differentiate between blaming her reverend father and his profession as potential culprits; her responses often describe in detail how much she yearns for renewal of her destroyed faith. One letter (1878) informs Jacob of father Heman's departure for Chicago, and how the family expects no return; in his absence, the household is served a collections notice. Ida discusses having to work harder than she would like, and the possibility of moving to Kansas to live with her grandfather, where life would be easier. Amidst this duress, Ida also revels in visits from sister Eva, dancing, and learning to play cards (ultimately too 'sinful' an activity). She writes of wanting to study at the University of Toronto, although her finances will not permit it. Her letters are surprisingly transparent, telling Jacob of her heart's every turn as she sorts out her ever-changing feelings towards him. Grace's collection spans from 1876 (the year in which the couple met) to 1895. Currently, 1878 has been transcribed. Other documents confirm that Ida and Eva's parents had a less than intimate union. The Fitch family appear on the 1870 Kansas Census, but without mother Melissa, and then again all together on the 1871 Census of Canada in Ontario. The last time Heman and Melissa show up together is on the 1880 US Census in Illinois. In 1884, after his divorce, Heman took a second and much younger wife (Alma) with whom he spent the last several decades of his life travelling around the United States, from Illinois, to Nebraska, Georgia, Tennessee, and finally, Los Angeles. Ida's son Ray was responsible for the family biographies, and was a professor/scholar. Sons Arthur and Albert were entomologists. Like sister Eva, who professed to have been born in Norwich, Ida's marriage registry reads "Harwich" for birthplace, which is in Kent County.
ResidencesNorwich or Harwich Township, Ontario (1858); Gore, Ontario (1861); Topeka, Kansas (1870); Bayham, Ontario (1871); Walkerton, Ontario (1891); Yarmouth, Ontario (1901); Calgary, Alberta (1911); Toronto (1948); Raymond, Alberta
Geographic regionsAlberta; Southern Ontario
Primary genrespoetry; drama; fiction; non-fiction
Other artspainting, drawing, music (piano), published two songs
Father's nameHeman Parker Fitch
Life dates of fatherMay 1835, Ontario - after 1920; m. 1856, divorced c1880-84; m. 1884 to Alma G.
Father's noteclergyman; father (also Heman) co-founded the Baptist Church in Upper Canada; travelled frequently to different church posts: Chicago, 1878
Mother's nameMelissa Wolverton
Life dates of mother15 May 1837, Blenheim Township, Oxford, Ontario - 8 December 1907, Toronto; m. 1856
Mother's noteaccomplished musician; missionary in Central America; daughter of Enos Wolverton, founder of Wolverton, Ontario and reportedly owner of Ontario's first pipe organ; sister of Dr. Newton Wolverton; moved through Illinois and Iowa prior to moving back to Ontario at time of divorce
Spouse 1Jacob Johnson Baker
Life dates of spouse 12 October 1854, Lemonville, Ontario - 1947
Spouse 1 noteclergyman, Baptist; educator; publisher; professor, McMaster University
Marriage 1 date12 September 1882
Marriage 1 placeWoodstock, Oxford, Ontario
Children number4
Children's names and datesRay Palmer (21 September 1883 - 21 September 1979), m. to Mary Irene Messinger; Arthur Challen (5 February 1885 - after 1930), m. to Ruth Thornton Stoddard; Alice Gray (21 July 1887 - 10 December 1905); Albert Wesley Baker (1 November 1881 - after 1938), m. Grace Carol Quigley
Biographical references"Reading Ida" Collection of Letters, transcribed by Grace Eagan; 1861 Census of Canada; 1870 United States Federal Census; 1871 Census of Canada; 1891 Census of Canada; 1901 Census of Canada; 1911 Census of Canada; Ontario, Canada Marriages, 1801-1928
Bibliographic referencesWatters, CHECKLIST OF CANADIAN LITERATURE...1620-1960 (1970), pp. 11, 241, 425, 757; Baker, Ray Palmer, Introduction to Ida Emma Fitch Baker, SELECTED POEMS (Toronto: Ryerson 1951).
Research referencescomplete
Image creditsImage courtesy of Grace Eagan, great-great-granddaughter of the Ida and Jacob Baker.<>
CopyrightThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) at Please cite Canada's Early Women Writers. SFU Library Digital Collections. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. 1980-2014.