Sadi Muriel Baron
A pioneering neurologist and psychiatrist, Sadi Muriel Baron managed to interweave teaching, working with poor urban families, and running a successful private practice. Baron was the first female resident at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center’s Neurological Institute in New York in the 1920s. In 1937, she decided to shift her focus from the male-dominated world of neurosurgery to psychiatry, running a private practice from her home and serving on the faculty of Columbia-Presbyterian’s department of psychiatry. She also worked with several public health agencies to offer services to poor and low-income families in Queens. While she may be remembered more for the memoir written by her transgender daughter, Dr. Renée Richards, Baron left a considerable legacy of her own through her work.
Like many mothers of celebrities, Sadi Muriel Baron might be considered famous because of her child, rather than because of her own personal accomplishments. Baron was the mother of Dr. Richard Raskind, who became one of the most famous American male-to-female transgender personalities when he transitioned into Dr. Renée Richards in 1976. However, Baron was herself a success story. Baron was a pioneering neurologist and psychiatrist who maintained her own private practice well into the 1950s. Indeed, one might argue that perhaps Renée derived her strength and determination to follow her heart after the example set by her mother.
Born on April 1, 1889, Baron grew up in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, the elder of two daughters. Her religious father pushed her toward a medical career as would have been traditional with a Jewish firstborn son. As a consequence, she maintained a defiant, headstrong identity as a professional Jewish woman throughout her life. This was evident in her educational accomplishments. Baron graduated at the top of her high school class, was among the top graduates of Bryn Mawr College, and was first in her class at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
In the late 1920s, after her medical training, Baron became the first female resident at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center’s Neurological Institute in New York City. During this time, Baron married Dr. David Raskind, who had established a successful medical practice in Long Island City, and the couple moved to Sunnyside, Queens. Baron refused to take her husband’s last name, since she felt that to do so would undermine her struggle against traditional notions of what a good Jewish wife was “supposed” to be. In 1929, she gave birth to a daughter, Michael, and in 1934 to a son, Richard. According to Renée Richards’s revealing autobiography, Second Serve (1983), during his early life as Richard, he never discussed his gender dysphoria with his mother, with whom he enjoyed an intimate, though often strained, relationship.
Although Baron had always planned to become a neurosurgeon, in 1937 she decided to abandon her aspirations–and what she considered neurosurgery’s exclusive world of male privilege—to become a psychiatrist. In 1939, the Baron-Raskind household relocated to Forest Hills, Queens. During the 1940s, Baron not only maintained a successful private practice from her own home, but served on the faculty at Columbia-Presbyterian’s Department of Psychiatry. Baron also became active in several public health agencies, where she used her talents as a skilled clinician and administrator to counsel poor and low-income families in Queens. After a lifetime of professional achievement, Baron was diagnosed with rectal cancer and died, less than a year later, on August 12, 1961.
BEOAJ; Richards, Renée, with John Ames. Second Serve: The Renée Richards Story (1983).
Obituary. NYTimes, August 14, 1961, 25:3.
Who’s Who of American Women (1961).