Annette Karr Baxter was born on 12 November 1926 in New York, New York. She attended New York University for one year before transferring to Barnard College. In 1947 she received an A.B. from Barnard, and began working full-time as an editorial assistant at Random House, a position that she began on a part time basis her senior year. In the fall she returned to school, earning an A.M. from Smith College in 1948 and another A.M. from Radcliffe College in 1949. She worked as an assistant curator for the collection of regional history at Cornell University from 1949 to 1951. She enrolled in the Ph.D. program in American Civilization at Brown University, where she was a Carnegie Teaching Fellow for the academic year 1951-52. She then began her life-long career at Barnard, working at first as a lecturer and then as an associate in the history department. She served as the executive secretary for the University Seminar on American Civilization at Columbia from 1953-59, and served as the secretary for the American Studies Bibliography Project of the American Studies Association from 1953-56. In 1955, she married psychiatrist James E. Baxter. Her first child, Justin McDonald, was born in 1959, and her daughter, Adrienne Marshall, was born in 1962.
She received her Ph.D. from Brown in 1958 and was promoted to the status of lecturer in the History Department at Barnard. Two years later she became an associate in History. In 1966 she was appointed as an assistant professor of history and was quickly promoted to associate professor status. She reached full professorship in 1971, and in 1975 had the honor of being one of a handful of women to be awarded an endowed chair, named for Adolph and Effie Ochs.
Annette Baxter was a pioneer in the field of women’s studies, teaching one of the earliest women’s history classes to undergraduates in 1966. Her course served as a model for many future classes at other institutions. She remained involved in a wide variety of activities at Barnard throughout her career, including serving as an advisor to the class of 1962, membership on the Board of Trustees, regularly participating in the Seven College Conference, advising the Thursday Noon Meetings, and playing a vital role in the creation and expansion of the Women’s Center at Barnard. She was acting chair of the American Studies Program in 1960-61 and 1963-64, and was made permanent chair of the department in 1967; she also served as chair of the history department from 1974 to 1983.
In addition to her career at Barnard, Baxter involved herself in many other organizations. She served on the Board of Trustees for Conference in Theology for College and University Faculty, Kirkland College (Clinton, New York) and Middlesex School (Concord, Massachusetts). She was a consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, National Council of Women, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. She served on committees for the American Association of University Women, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, American Studies Association, and many others. She participated in panels and gave speeches on the value of women’s history and women’s education. Baxter published numerous book reviews and articles, and edited several series on women’s autobiographies and women’s studies. Her books include To Be a Woman in America, 1850-1930; Inwood House, 1839-1980; and a biography, Henry Miller, Expatriate, as well as four books in progress when she died in 1983. She has been called “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the history of women.”
Throughout her career, Annette Baxter remained dedicated to the cause of women’s education, women’s studies, and women’s rights. She fought to keep Barnard independent from Columbia. In 1979-80, “the politics and problems of the Barnard History Department in its struggle for survival in Columbia University” consumed much of her energy. In the prime of her career, Annette Baxter died in a fire that also killed her husband, at their summer home on 18 September 1983. She was fifty-six years old.