2. “Get the Lead Out!” Pioneer in Industrial Medicine: Dr. Alice Hamilton
Born in New York, Alice Hamilton grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Throughout her life education was important and her family’s wealth allowed Alice to attended medical school in an era when most women were forced to marry to retain a level of economic comfort. Initially she attended medical school to become a medical missionary. When she determined that she would not be good as a missionary, she settled for being able to “care for the sick.” After graduating fro the University of Michigan Medical School she interned at two hospitals for women and children.
Alice developed an interested in bacteriology, a subdivision of microbiology. She traveled to Berlin to study there, but was turned away for being a woman. Instead she studied in Frankfurt, Munich, and Leipzig before returning to the United States to complete a one-year residency at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. In 1897 she accepted a position as a professor of pathology at the Women’s Medical School of Northwestern University in Chicago. After hearing Jane Addams speak about the work being done at Hull-House, Dr. Alice Hamilton moved in and became a full-time resident at the famous settlement house from 1897-1919.
Dr. Alice Hamilton spent her days at Northwestern and her evenings teaching English, art, and sports at Hull-House. During her stay at Hull-House she headed a baby wellness clinic and a visiting nurses program. Through both of these ventures, Alice visited with neighborhood residents that worked in nearby garment and steel factories 14 to 16 hours a day and lived in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements. Early on at Hull-House, Alice began researching on the causes of typhoid and tuberculosis, diseases that were common and devastating in the poor, working-class neighborhood surrounding Hull-House.
After her years at Hull-House, Dr. Hamilton became a pioneer in the field of occupational epidemiology and industrial hygiene. Examining the impacts of chemicals and elements on the lives of workers and their children made Hamilton a powerhouse in public health and occupational reforms. Her research and advocacy led to industrial companies to be accountable for the work environments of their laborers. As a special investigator for the uS Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1925, she advocated for the removal of lead and mercury from common products such as gasoline and paint. In 1978 the United States had made it illegal to use or produce paint that contained led.