First female Princeton University associate professor to be featured in PUL exhibition

Photo of J. Douglas Brown, Helen Baker, and an unidentified man during the 1948 Industrial Relations Conference.

Photo of (from left): an unidentified man, J. Douglas Brown, and Helen Baker during the 1948 Industrial Relations Conference. 1948; Industrial Relations Section Records, MC231, Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

The story of Helen Baker isn’t simply about her role as the only woman faculty member in Princeton University’s Economics Department. Nor is it about becoming the first woman to hold an associate professor position at the University. 

As Labor Economics Librarian Charissa Jefferson tells it ahead of her exhibition on Baker, she “was working on labor research just in time for the federal government to need it.” 

An influx of women entering the United States workforce during World War II led to a drastic shift in labor planning and expectations. Baker’s work in part sought to explore this new frontier of American labor. 

Jefferson first became aware of Baker’s contributions while exploring the Public Policy Papers in Mudd Library for the centennial celebration of Princeton’s Industrial Relations Section and her accompanying exhibition on its longstanding director, J. Douglas Brown.

“While my focus for that exhibition was specific to the enactment of Social Security in the early 1930s, I wanted to tell the next chapter of the Section’s history about its amazing contributors to the labor force during World War II,” Jefferson explained. “The Princeton Alumni Weekly article published in January 2023 further inspired me to dig deeper into Ms. Baker’s contributions to the labor force efforts that affected policy specific to women occupying the defense and auxiliary industries to win the war effort.”

In planning this exhibition, Jefferson considered ways women overcame stereotypes when joining traditionally male-dominated fields. The themes in the show will concern women’s health, safety, and hygiene in the workplace, as well as considerations like childcare responsibilities and work hours, and wages and economic independence.

“Helen Baker was one of those women who helped dispel stereotypes about women in work and the economic and social contributions women can make if there is policy and legislation to support those efforts,” Jefferson said. 

Jefferson, the Industrial Relations Section, and Princeton University Library are planning to debut the show in Autumn 2024.

Related reading: PUL honors women’s history month

Published on March 22, 2024

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Stephanie Oster, Publicity Manager