Alice Hamilton was a physician who left an indelible mark on American work places and the medical field.  She started what could be best described as occupational medicine, establishing a link between workplace conditions, and the physical health of the workers.  Her activism changed laws promoting safer working conditions and exposed public health hazards that resulted from unsanitary factory conditions. Her work led to the creation of the Occupational Disease Commission in Illinois in 1910, which she served as the first director.  In addition to all of these accomplishments she was the first female to teach at Harvard Medical School.

Alice was raised by an affluent family in an industrial environment, Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She was educated in the best finishing schools the country has to offer and then went to study abroad.  By the turn of the century, she was based in the Chicago area living at the famous Hull House.  Once there she opened up a baby clinic for poor families, which allowed her to experience first-hand the living conditions of poor people.  Many of the health problems people in industrial areas had resulted from big factories and their disposal methods.  Also, the prevalence of lead in the area was the culprit of much of the health problems in the area.

Combining the science of toxicology with investigative reporting; interviewing factory workers, she was able to bring irrefutable proof of factory conditions being a public safety issue.  Her work reached a wide audience, thus changing the public perception of workplace safety rules.  As a result of injuries and health hazards people face as a result of workplace conditions, she recommended that workers should be compensated for any serious accident incurred at work.  Her work started in Chicago and she was later asked to replicate it on a national scale; which would eventually lead to what is today known as worker’s compensation.

In 1919 she accepted a position at the Department of Industrial Medicine which made her the first woman to serve on the Harvard Medical School faculty.  Her commitment to working people was so strong that she continued her work at Hull House during this time.  She served on the League of Nations Health Committee between 1924 and 1930, and wrote widely respected books that were cited often on the subject of work place conditions.  From 1944 to 1949 she served as the president of the National Consumers League, a group that made significant contributions to workers’ rights; especially for women.  After her death in 1970, congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

The contributions of Alice Hamilton shows what a committed person with a moral compass and dedication can do.  Making It to The Finish Line instructs girls on the importance of believing in yourself and how that is essential to accomplishing goals.  If you are interested in finding out more about Alice and other female pioneers, check out the source below.

Dreier, Peter. The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame. New York: Nation, 2012. Print.


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