Portrait of a an elderly woman

Alice Baker

Alice Baker, nee Shaw (1855–1935) was a prominent Melburnian, a philanthropist and a champion of women’s causes.

She generously gave her time and her money to a wide variety of clubs and charities, and in 1933 was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for her services to Victoria.

"Always she was interested in the work of women." Age, 22 March 1935, p. 11
Portrait of older woman wearing glasses and a pearl necklace.
MM 138274 – Portrait of Alice Baker, circa 1930s
Alice Baker “has been associated with devoted service to unnumbered worthy causes – service that has won the esteem and respect of all who have heard her name” Australasian Photo-Review, 14 January 1933, p8.

Alice married an entrepreneur. Originally a chemist, her husband Thomas Baker became Australia’s most successful photographic manufacturer and retailer. His initial business was T. Baker & Company, then he established a retail partnership with John Joseph Rouse, known as Baker & Rouse, which later merged with Eastman Kodak to become Kodak Australasia.

During the establishment of his first business, T. Baker & Company, which made dry plates for photography, Alice reportedly assisted her husband with selling and processing the plates. Later, along with her husband, she was a share-holder in Kodak Australasia, and travelled with him regularly on business. She also played a social role, hosting Kodak staff at picnics and events.

The Bakers became significantly wealthy from their involvement in the photographic industry, particularly after Baker & Rouse was acquired by Kodak. Thomas was appointed managing director of Kodak Australasia and the Bakers became substantial shareholders of that company.

Over time the couple became influential members of Melbourne society, especially in the arena of intellectual pursuits 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.

Alice’s unmarried sister Eleanor Shaw was the Bakers constant companion. They had no children, and Eleanor lived and travelled together with the Bakers as extended family.

MM 155001 – Photograph -Thomas Baker, Alice Baker & Eleanor Shaw, September 1907

The three of them also generously supported many charitable organisations together. Most significant were their donations to the Alfred Hospital and the eventual establishment of a medical research department there, ‘The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute’, now known as the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

While Alice, her husband and her sister donated 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.

Income Tax Documents - Receipts & Dividends Information, Mrs. Alice Baker, Australia, 1933-1934
MM 98659 – The Kodak Cot, Presented by Alice Baker, Children's Hospital, Adelaide, 1923
Income Tax Documents - Receipts & Dividends Information, Mrs. Alice Baker, Australia, 1933-1934

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.” 

“Mrs. Baker, by a lifetime of sincere endeavour and good works, earned greater respect than the community can ever pay.” Australasian Photo-Review, 1 April 1935, p.1, 164

Alice Baker died at the age of 80 on 20 March 1935, at her home in South Yarra. The pallbearers at her funeral included representatives from some of the most cherished parts of her long and productive life, including the Baker and Shaw Medical Research Institute, Kodak Australasia and Melbourne Rotary Club.


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', http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A070156b.htm 

Herald, 27 January 1927, p.12; 6 June 1929, p.19Lowe, 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

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