Dorothy Ahlswede Baker was born in 1923 and grew up in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. She attended Bellin College of Nursing in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and joined the Cadet Nurse Corps while there. After graduation, she worked at the Sturgeon Bay Hospital for several months.
Baker enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and reported to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for basic training in February 1945. She was assigned briefly to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before transferring to Charleston, South Carolina, to serve on the United States Army hospital ship Wisteria, which transported German prisoners of war to Europe and returned sick and wounded American soldiers to the United States.
In 1946 Baker spent several months chaperoning war brides on troop trains from Camp Kilmore, New Jersey. She was also assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, and then Fort Lawton, Washington, where she served aboard a hospital ship transporting soldiers from the Pacific Theatre. She was discharged from the U.S. Army in the summer 1947 upon marriage to Horace Baker, a doctor serving aboard the same ship. The Bakers resided in North Carolina, eventually settling in Southern Pines.