Woman Making History #40: Alice Hamilton


Alice HamiltonDr. Alice Hamilton was the first woman ever on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, as well as a founder of the field of occupational health, specifically toxicology.

Alice Hamilton was born in 1869 in Indiana. She was home-schooled as a child, then went to finishing school in her teens. In 1893, she took her doctorate of medicine from The University of Michigan Medical School. After doing internships for several years, she went to Europe to study bacteriology and pathology from 1895 to 1897. In 1897, she moved to Chicago and took a position as a professor of pathology at the Women's Medical School at Northwestern University.

While living in Chicago, Hamilton became a member and resident of Hull House, the settlement house formed by Jane Addams. Living at Hull House, alongside the poor, Hamilton became very interested in the occupational causes of many poor workers' illnesses. In 1907, she began to explore literature from abroad on what was then called "industrial medicine"--illnesses caused by certain industrial jobs. In 1908, she published her first article on the topic.

In 1910, Hamilton was appointed commissioner to Illinois' new Occupational Diseases Commission. In 1919, she was hired as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School's new Department of Industrial Medicine. She was Harvard Medical's first female professor. From 1924 to 1930, she also served as the only female member of the League of Nations' health committee.

Hamilton retired from Harvard in 1935, keeping her connection to the school as a professor emeritus. She then served as a medical consultant to the U.S. Division of Labor Standards.

Hamilton died in 1970, at the age of 101.

Women in Chemistry
Changing the Face of Medicine

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