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Alice Hamilton

Alice Hamilton

The American physician Alice Hamilton (1869-1970) is recognized as the founder of industrial medicine in the United States. She was the first woman on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

Alice Hamilton grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., in an affluent home. Her parents entertained guests who discussed major topics of the day, and they stimulated the thinking of their children by raising doubts about society's religious and social assumptions. Hamilton attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn., and in 1893 graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School. She interned in the New England Hospital for Women in Boston. There she serviced working-class people, the usual clientele of the first women doctors (who were seldom employed by the upper classes).

In 1894 Dr. Hamilton studied bacteriology in Germany and returned to accept her first teaching position at the Women's Medical College of Northwestern University in Chicago, III. Another important factor in her life seems to have been her decision to live at Chicago's settlement house, Hull House. Here she came into close contact with notable social reformers (including the founder of Hull House and one of America's first social workers, Jane Addams) and with the sick from the streets and the mills of the city. For several years she was torn between the medical-social work around Hull House and an equally strong desire to devote herself to research at the McCormick Institute for Infectious Diseases.

Eventually Dr. Hamilton's social passion and scientific skills combined as she plunged into the research and activity to control health hazards in the dangerous trades of mining and factory work. Her first real chance came in 1910, when the governor of Illinois appointed her to a commission to investigate occupational diseases. She inspected mines and factories to identify hazardous jobs. After the Federal government asked her to make her research nationwide, she spent 12 years identifying lead, arsenic, and mercury poisons, aniline dyes, picric acid, dust, bad ventilation, and other health hazards. On the basis of her research she was expected to present the needed antidotes and safeguards.

Always an outspoken feminist, Dr. Hamilton must have been excited to accept an invitation in 1919 to be the first woman to join the faculty of the Harvard Medical School. In 1935 she retired from Harvard but not from her national and international efforts to prevent industry from poisoning the earth. She was one of the first to warn of the lethal nature of atomic radiation.

Further Reading

The best book on Alice Hamilton is her autobiography, Exploring the Dangerous Trades (1943). For general background see George Rosen, A History of Public Health (1958). □

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Hamilton, Alice

HAMILTON, ALICE

Alice Hamilton was born in New York City in 1869, and died in Hadlyme, Connecticut, in 1970. She graduated from the University of Michigan's medical school in 1893 and pursued postgraduate study in pathology and bacteriology in Germany as well as Johns Hopkins University. In 1897, a position as professor of pathology at the Women's Medical School of Northwestern University brought her to Hull House, located in Chicago, where she remained for the next twenty-two years. Hull House was a hotbed for social reform during the turn of the twentieth century, and Hamilton participated in activities designed to ameliorate urban povertyfrom teaching basket weaving to starting an infant health clinic.

In 1908, Hamilton's work at Hull House led to an appointment on the Illinois Commission on Occupational Diseases. The commission lacked any in-depth study on which to recommend legislation and Hamilton was asked to conduct a nine-month survey on the prevalence of industrial diseases in the state. Her survey combined laboratory findings with an extensive investigation of hospital records, inspections of industrial plants, and the testimonials from workers and their families. While she studied a number of dangers, she focused on lead poisoning and was able to connect the disease with specific occupations. Her seminal study, the [Illinois] Report of Commission on Occupational Diseases; To His Excellency Governor Charles S. Deneen (1911), demonstrated that the majority of Illinois' industrial workers faced life-threatening hazards at their jobs. The state responded by immediately passing a law that established occupational safety standards.

Considered the leading authority on industrial toxicology, Hamilton worked as a special investigation for the U.S. Bureau of Labor from 1911 to 1920. She also became an assistant professor of industrial medicine at Harvard from 1919 to 1935, and wrote the first American textbook on the subject, Industrial Poisons in the United States (1925).

Jennifer Koslow

(see also: Lead; Occupational Disease )

Bibliography

Hamilton, A. (1943). Exploring the Dangerous Trades. Boston: Little, Brown.

Sicherman, B. (1984). Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

(1991). "Working It Out: Gender, Profession, and Reform in the Career of Alice Hamilton." In Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era, eds. N. Frankel and N. S. Dye. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

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Hamilton, Alice

Alice Hamilton, 1869–1970, American toxicologist, physician, and educator, b. New York City, M.D. Univ. of Michigan, 1893; she continued her studies in Germany. A pioneer in industrial diseases and hygiene, she joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School in 1919 and became emeritus professor of industrial medicine in 1935. Her services as an outstanding authority on industrial conditions, ailments, and poisons were eagerly sought by political and government agencies. She worked with the state of Illinois, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, and the health committee of the League of Nations. Her publications include Industrial Poisoning in the United States (1925), Industrial Toxicology (1934), and Exploring the Dangerous Trades, an autobiography (1943).

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