Mary Baer knew as a child she wanted to be a missionary. An interest in foreign missions was sparked in her after hearing the Rev. J.W. Goodlin speak, and thus she embarked on an odyssey that would take her to India as the second woman doctor sent by the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States of America (GS).
Mary Baer was born on November 1, 1863. She was the third of six children and the eldest daughter. In the fall of 1891 she began course work at the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia and received her medical doctorate in May 1894. Upon her graduation, she was appointed an assistant physician at the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dr. Baer was appointed a missionary of the General Synod in August 1895. She arrived in Madras, India, on December 8, 1895. Her first year in India was spent studying the Telegu language and assisting at the mission dispensary in Guntur, India. After completing her language study, Dr. Baer assumed responsibility for the dispensary. While working at the dispensary, she also assisted with evangelistic work, work among the Muslim women in Indian harems, also known as zenana work, and was acting superintendent for the hospital when Dr. Anna S. Kugler was on furlough. Dr. Baer worked at the Guntur Mission Hospital and Dispensary for fourteen years.
In July 1909, Dr. Baer went to Chirala, India, to continue medical mission work begun there in 1906. She helped to establish the first hospital at Chirala. It began as a shed adjoining another shed that housed the dispensary. These structures had thatched roofs and sand floors. For a year the only staff people at the Chirala medical station were Dr. Baer and a Bible woman. A third shed was constructed and used as an operating room. On occasion when Dr. Baer would perform surgery, she would ask her cook to assist her while the Bible woman administered chloroform to the patient.
Dr. Baer was forced to return to the United States in May 1912 for treatment for a severe infection. The dispensary and hospital closed because of her absence. When she left for the States, ground was just being broken for the new hospital. While Dr. Baer was on medical leave, the first unit and a nursery were completed. Hospital services resumed in July 1914.
Dr. Baer continued to work at the hospital in Chirala that now bears her name, until her retirement in 1933. She remained in India, living in a home she owned in Kotagiri, until her death on July 11, 1942.
The records that comprise this collection are primarily correspondence written by Dr. Baer to the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society (WHFMS) of the GS, and later the Women's Missionary Society (WMS) of the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA). The correspondence is from 1891-1937. The earliest correspondence pertains to Dr. Baer's tenure as a medical student, while the remainder of the correspondence is from a postgraduate year she spent working at the Women's Medical Hospital of Philadelphia, her years as a GS/ULCA missionary in Guntur, India, and her years as a GS/ULCA missionary in Chirala, India. In addition to the correspondence, there is Dr. Baer's application to become a missionary for the GS and a biographical data form Dr. Baer completed for the ULCA's WMS. There is also information pertaining to the establishment and construction of the medical facilities at Chirala. A booklet titled Evolution of the Chirala Mission, 1906-1930 appears to have been written by Dr. Baer. The collection is also available on microfilm.