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Radical Woman of the Day: Alice Hamilton

On this day in 1869 was born Alice Hamilton, toxicology pioneer, occupational health researcher, and first woman ever appointed to the faculty of Harvard. She earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan and studied bacteriology and pathology at German universities before returning to the United States to study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. From 1897 to 1919 she lived in Chicago, teaching at the Women’s Medical School of Northwestern University and serving on the Occupational Diseases Commission of Illinois.

During her time in Chicago, Dr. Hamilton lived at Hull House, a settlement house in a poor neighborhood where residents involved themselves in the local community. Hamilton’s observation of the medical needs of her working-class neighbors led to her realization that the Industrial Revolution had brought with it new health risks not yet being thoroughly studied in America. She began researching epidemiology and industrial hygiene and was hired in 1919 as an assistant professor in Harvard Medical School’s new Department of Industrial Medicine.

From 1924 to 1930 Hamilton also served on the Health Committee of the League of Nations, the only female member of the Committee. She retired from Harvard in 1935 but continued to consult with the U.S. Division of Labor Standards. In 1944 she was included on a list of Men of Science, and in 1947 she received the Lasker Award. Dr. Hamilton died in 1970.