Helen Baker was the mother of Dr. William Oliver Baker. She was the premier turkey breeder in the United States, raising 1,000 turkeys in 1927, which she sold that year for $15,000 [The Southern Planter, 1928]. She published a book about raising turkeys (first edition 1928, revised second edition 1933), selling thousands of copies.
Helen M. Stokes was born in 1881 in Brooklyn, NY to Frank F. Stokes and Mary O’Leary and raised there. In 1912 she married her second husband, Harold May Baker. The following year, she and Harold purchased and moved to a 235-acre farm, called Comegy’s Bight, in Quaker Neck, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
After unsuccessful attempts at general farming and at raising chicken, she turned to turkeys and was so successful that she was known as “the turkey lady” [The Southern Planter, 1928]. She branded the breeder turkeys raised at her Maryland Turkey Farm “Baker’s Bronze Beauties.” She and Mrs. G. William Sattler are credited with establishing the turkey industry upon a moneymaking basis [The Baltimore Sun, 1931].
Helen Baker believed that turkeys should be sold all year. A 1929 article in The Washington Post Magazine quoted her as saying: “There is no reason in the world why the American family should not avail itself of the delicious and nourishing turkey meat year round…” [The Washington Post Magazine, 1929].
In 1928, she received a silver cup at the International Turkey Exposition in Chicago “for distinguished service to the United States.” In 1929, the University of Maryland honored her with a Certificate of Merit for meritorious accomplishments in agriculture. Articles describing her accomplishments in Rural New Yorker, American Farming, The Washington Post Magazine, The Baltimore Sun, and The Southern Planter.
She and Harold retired in 1937, sold the turkey farm, and moved to New Jersey, presumably to be closer to their son William, who was then studying for his doctorate at Princeton University.
Her first husband was Thomas Riego Hart (b: 1867), a New York lawyer. As a result of her alimony settlement in 1908, Hart assigned her all interest in U. S. and Canadian rights to the play “Fedora” by Victorien Sardou. Hart had acquired the rights in 1898 from the estate of Fanny Davenport.
Helen Baker died on June 15, 1945 after a long illness.
Helen M. Baker, Turkeys, 1928, Helen M. Baker (Chesterfield, Maryland).
“The Turkey Lady,” The Southern Planter, July 15, 1928, p. 4.
Donald Kirkley, “Talking Turkey on the Eastern Shore,” The Baltimore Sun, November 25, 1928, p. 3.
Edwin C. Totten, “1,007 Turkeys Brought $15,000,” Poultry Tribune, November 1928, pp. 13-15.
Lucy Salamanca, “Turkey a Bargain at $300 Each,” The Washington Post Magazine, November 24, 1929, p. 2.
Bissell Brooke, “The Turkey awaits his Cue,” The Baltimore Sun, November 15, 1931, pp. 7 & 8.
Wheeler McMillen, “Luckier Than Black Cats,” The Country Home, February 1933, pp. 10-11.
Helen M. Baker, Turkeys Second Revised Edition, Helen M. Baker, 1933.
First Edition, 1928 - Second Revised Edition, 1933
Copyright 1933 by Helen M. Baker
“Dedicated to my Beloved Son - William Oliver Baker - Whose sterling qualities are my inspiration”
“In the spring of 1913 my husband and I yielded to that mysterious back-to-the-land urge and bought a farm. None of our immediate ancestors had been farmers, otherwise we might have shown more intelligence. … our farm is an old Eastern Shore of Maryland landmark situated on the beautiful Chester River that empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Our old brick house was built in 1768 by one Edward Cornelius Comegy’s, a Hollander, and here in 1915 our son and only child, William Oliver Baker, was born.” [pp. 5-6]
“Although we were born in New York City and knew nothing about farming, we bought four hundred acres, stocked them with every living thing that could be raised on a farm, hired a force of farm laborers to plant everything that could be grown in this climate, and then settled down to ‘enjoy life.’ … after eleven ‘bumpy’ years we stopped doing general framing.” [p. 6]
“When our son came along it was impossible for me to be outdoors so much, and one of the things I gave up was turkeys. … During the years I ceased to raise them I did a lot of hard thinking, I assure you. General farm conditions were getting more and more unsatisfactory and unprofitable, and we were getting more and more attached to our lovely old farm. With a son to look ahead for, something profitable would have to be done. Everybody was going in for chickens. I decided to take up that fascinating cropturkeys.” [p. 7-9]
“In 1927 my husband came into the work with me and since then we have produced larger flocks than I could have handled alone.” [p. 9]
“It is very evident that our domesticated Bronze Turkey is a direct descendant of the North American Wild Turkey.” [p. 11]
“… we have brought our Baker’s Bronze Beauties back to the standard size (not the original size of the wild turkey) by selective matings and breeding.” [p. 12]
“A small job well done is always more profitable than a large one badly done.” [p. 17]
“One customer you have helped to success will send others to you; one customer you have not played fair with will delight in spreading your reputation far and wide.” [p. 17]
“I have developed five different blood lines of the beautiful Bronze turkey, and have named our strain BAKER’S BRONZE BEAUTIES.” [p. 26]
“Do not try to shield your child from painful or unpleasant experiences, counsels a German psychologist. Prof. J. H. Schultz. Writing in the Hamburger Fremdenblatt, he declares that it a good thing to have tragedy in our lives. This is especially true in the training of children. Well as we may understand that in the bringoing up of children prolonged brutality or loveless discipline must degrade and deform, it is no less perverted to go to the other extreme. It is absurd to assume that a child can be properly prepared for the battle of life by rearing it in an atmosphere of consideration, of kindness, of freedom from shock. This would lead to effeminacy, degeneracy. The child, and the adolescent too, must have pressure, crisis, urge, necessity, unless he is to grow up into a mere pale flower in an unreal landscape. It cannot be too plainly set forth, and that, too, upon medical authority, that excessive anxiety to shield ourselves and those we love from stresses of painful experiences is sheer hypochondria, a nervous dread itself.” [p. 237]