Alison Baker, writer and oral historian, died in Tangiers, Morocco on May 10, 2015 at the age of 75, after a massive stroke. She was born in New York City and grew up in Connecticut. She went to the Putney School in Vermont and graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1962. Alison also spent summers with her family in North Haven, Maine.
Throughout her life, Alison was an avid traveler and engaged world citizen. As a child, she visited her grandparents in England and attended school in Paris for a year, then spent time studying music in Germany as an undergraduate. Her early career in the foreign service with the US Information Agency took her to Burma, Benin, Vietnam, Taiwan and Hong Kong, She also worked with Operation Crossroads Africa developing programs for international visitors from Africa and the diaspora, and escorted American musicians on tours to foreign countries, using music as a bridge between cultures. She maintained her connection to international professional development up until her death by working as a state department escort for foreign visitors and a program developer in New York City.
Alison earned her PhD in History and Asian Studies, and subsequently worked as a college administrator at Boston University, Sarah Lawrence College, and St Mary’s College of Maryland. She also created “The Academic Year in New York City” to enable college juniors to experience a year abroad in the city. After going to Morocco in 1990, as academic director of an American study abroad program, she became interested in the stories of older women who participated in the Moroccan independence movement of the 1940s and 50s. Alison ended up pursuing her own research, wrote a book, Voices of Resistance, and made a video (Still Ready: Three Women From the Moroccan Resistance) together with a Moroccan filmmaker, becoming an oral historian in the process.
Inspired by her twenty-fifth Bryn Mawr reunion, for her second book, Alison collected oral histories of her classmates and wrote It’s Good to be a Woman, a portrait of women’s college graduates on the leading edge of the feminist movement. Then, as the 2008-2009 recession hit, she launched her next project, “Saloon Songs for Hard Times”, a video compilation of interviews, songs and images related to American experiences of hard times (joblessness, homelessness, prison) both during the recent recession and the Great Depression.
Most recently, Alison returned to her Asian Studies roots, with an oral history project related to how traditional minority cultures in China experience modernization, specifically the resilience of a community of cormorant fishermen on Lake Erhai in Yunnan province. She was writing about her experiences in China when she was invited to Tangiers to speak on a panel about Moroccan women. Her death at the conference was sudden and unexpected, but she died peacefully, without regaining consciousness. Before arriving in Tangiers, she had just spent ten days visiting old friends and traveling around Morocco, bringing her full circle to the places where she was first inspired to record individual stories that would otherwise be lost.
Alison is survived by her sister, Anne Baker White, her children Eleanor Huey, Caroline Huey and Ted Huey, and her six grandchildren.