A biography of Harvard’s first female faculty member—a pioneer in public health and worker safety.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Alice Hamilton graduated from medical school in 1893, and after completing internships at hospitals in Minneapolis and Boston, she rejected private practice and began dedicating herself to public health. Focusing on the investigation of the health and safety measures—or rather lack thereof—in the nation’s factories and mines during the second decade of the twentieth century, her discoveries led to factory and mine level-initiated reforms, and to city, state, and federal reform legislation. It also led to a greater recognition in the nation’s universities for formal academic programs in industrial and public health. In 1919, Harvard officials considered Hamilton the best-qualified person in the country to lead their effort in this area.
The Education of Alice Hamilton is an inspiring story of a woman who lived a remarkable life at a time when women were not always welcome in medical circles—serving as personal physician to Jane Addams, founder of Hull House; traveling to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany; researching the effects of mercury, carbon monoxide, benzene, and other substances on workers. She was sometimes ignored—such as when she warned of the dangers of lead in gasoline decades before it was eventually banned—but she persisted, and thanks in part to her groundbreaking work, Americans now enjoy the protection of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Act.