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Alice Hamilton (1869-1970): mother of US occupational medicine.

Baron S; Brown TM
Am J Public Health 2009 Nov; 99(S3):S548
Alice Hamilton, often referred to as the mother of US occupational medicine, was also one of a pioneering group of young women who formed part of Jane Addam's Hull House at the turn of the 20th century. Born in New York City and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Hamilton earned her medical degree at the University of Michigan in 1893. Following internships in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Boston, Massachusetts, she studied bacteriology and pathology in Germany and then at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She moved to Chicago in 1897 where she was appointed professor of pathology at the Women's Medical School of Northwestern University. While happy to find a professional position in her field, she was most excited about the opportunity to become part of Jane Addam's new settlement movement. Her life at Hull House exposed her to many of the leading progressive era activists and social reformers including Florence Kelley, the socialist, who fought against child labor and for the 8-hour workday. In her autobiography, Hamilton wrote, "In settlement life it is impossible not to see how deep and fundamental are the inequalities in our democratic country. While living among the working class immigrant communities of Chicago, Illinois, she heard about their deplorable working conditions and she began reading studies by European occupational medicine researchers. When she asked US authorities about the existence of industrial poisoning she was assured that the European findings could not apply to American workers who "were so much better paid, their standard of living was so much higher, and the factories they worked in so much finer than the Europeans." Alice Hamilton's training in pathology, combined with her intimate knowledge of working class life, and her ideals of social reform made her the spearhead of the occupational safety and health movement in the United States. In 1908 she was asked by the governor of Illinois to become a member of a commission investigating industrial illnesses. This Illinois survey led eventually to a larger federal survey which documented exposures to lead and other industrial toxins in factories throughout the country. The method Hamilton used in her investigations combined factory inspections and interviews with workers in their homes "where they had courage to speak out what is in their minds." In one investigation of lead poisoning in a bathtub factory, it was only after talking to the lead-poisoned worker that Hamilton discovered that the factory owners had never shown her the lead enameling process that led to the poisoning.
Biohazards; Exposure-assessment; Exposure-methods; Health-protection; Occupational-exposure; Occupational-hazards; Occupational-health; Occupational-sociology; Protective-measures; Public-health; Risk-factors; Training; Work-areas; Work-environment; Worker-health; Work-operations; Workplace-studies; Surveillance-programs
Sherry Baron, MD, MPH, Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4676 Columbia Parkway, MS R17, Cincinnati, OH 45226
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Healthcare and Social Assistance
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American Journal of Public Health
Page last reviewed: June 15, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division