Baker, Rhodes Semmes (1874–1940)

By: Brian Hart

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Rhodes Semmes Baker, attorney, was born to Andrew Jackson Baker and Elizabeth (Newsome) Baker at Duck Hill, Mississippi, on May 30, 1874. The family moved to Texas in 1884 and settled at San Angelo, where the elder Baker operated a hardware store and served as commissioner of the General Land Office from 1895 to 1899. Baker, while working in his father's business, educated himself in hopes of becoming an attorney. Despite the fact that he had no academic coursework, he was accepted at the University of Texas. In Austin he not only pursued legal studies but edited a number of student publications. He graduated at the top of his class in 1896, moved to Dallas, and established a law practice that immediately prospered. Three years later he married Edna Miller Rembert; they had two daughters, named Dorothy and Winifred, and one son, Rhodes Jr., who also became an attorney in Dallas.

Baker was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in April 1901 and successfully argued a number of cases. In his most famous one, Hopkins v. Baker, he convinced the justices of the legality of a state law allowing married couples to file separate tax returns, thereby reducing their tax burden. He was a member of the American Bar Association, as well as the state and local bar associations, and served at one time as president of the University of Texas Ex-Students Association. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, where he taught Bible classes for thirty-seven years, and was president, on a number of occasions, of the Young Men's Christian Association.

Baker acquired an impressive selection of paintings, including works by George Inness, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, and George Romney, and was a member and one-time president of the Dallas Art Association (see DALLAS ART INSTITUTE). This largely self-educated man maintained a great interest in higher education, as seen in his participation in the campaign that brought Southern Methodist University to Dallas and in his service on the board of trustees of Austin College, which awarded him an honorary Ph.D. in 1924. At the time of his death he was a partner in the law firm of Thompson, Knight, Baker, and Harris, chairman of the board of the Dallas Building and Loan Association, and a member of the board of directors of Republic National Bank. Baker died in Dallas on February 6, 1940.

Alcalde (magazine of the Ex-Students' Association of the University of Texas), March 1940. Dallas Morning News, February 7, 1940. A History of Greater Dallas and Vicinity, Vol. 1., by Philip Lindsley; Vol. 2., Selected Biography and Memoirs, ed. L. B. Hill (Chicago: Lewis, 1909). Texan (Austin, Texas), February 8, 1940. University of Texas Record, August 1899.
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Brian Hart, “Baker, Rhodes Semmes,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994

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