Alice Hamilton, demonstrated lead toxicity

Alice Hamilton, the daughter of Montgomery Hamilton and Gertrude Pond, was born in Manhattan on 27 February 1869 to a wealthy American family.

She spent her childhood with her family in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where her grandfather, an Irish immigrant, had settled in 1823. Later, from 1886 to 1888, she completed her education at the Miss Porter School for Young Ladies in Farmington, Connecticut.

Despite having lived in a privileged environment, it was clear to Alice that she wanted to study and dedicate herself to something that would bring value and some kind of useful service to the world. This thought led her to study medicine, graduating from the university in 1894. She worked as a resident at Northwestern Hospital for Women and Children in Minneapolis and at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. However, Hamilton realized that she was not interested in medical practice and returned to the University of Michigan in February 1895 to study bacteriology as a laboratory assistant to Frederick George Novy.

In 1895, he moved to Germany to complete his studies in bacteriology and pathology, returning to the United States a year later, where he continued his postgraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University working with Simon Flexner.

Alice Hamilton en clase de anatomía

In 1897, she began working as a teacher at the Northwestern University Women's Medical School, a position she combined with social work at Hull House, the settlement founded by social reformers Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr.

Through her work at Hull House and living with the poor residents of the community, Hamilton witnessed the effects that hazardous trades had on the health of the workers, especially through exposure to carbon monoxide and lead poisoning. This led her to become increasingly interested in occupational medicine and occupational diseases and injuries.

Thus, Hamilton began her career in public health and occupational safety in 1910, when she was appointed medical reviewer for the Illinois Commission on Occupational Diseases. From there she led research focusing on industrial poisons such as lead and other toxic substances. She authored the "Illinois Survey", the commission's report documenting its findings on industrial processes that exposed workers to lead poisoning and other illnesses.

By 1916, she had become the leading authority in the United States on lead poisoning, and for a decade she also explored the effects of other substances such as aniline dyes, carbon monoxide, mercury, tetraethyl lead, radium, benzene, carbon sulfide and hydrogen sulfide.

Hamilton was a pioneer of occupational epidemiology and industrial hygiene. In addition, he initiated the field of industrial medicine in the United States. Her findings were scientifically influential and key to changing laws and general practices for the health of workers.

In 1919, she accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Medicine at Harvard Medical School, becoming the first woman professor at Harvard. However, until her retirement in 1935, she never received a promotion and was only renewed on temporary contracts for three years at a time. At her request, her appointments were part-time, one semester per year, so that she could combine her teaching with her research and volunteer work at Hull House.

After her retirement, Hamilton became a medical adviser to the United States Division of Labor Standards. Her last field study, done between 1937 and 1938, investigated the rayon viscose industry. She was also president of the National Consumers League from 1944 to 1949.

During these years, she lived in Hadlyme, Connecticut, in the house she had bought in 1916 with her sister Margaret, and continued to be active as a writer. Her autobiography "Exploring Dangerous Industries" was published in 1943.

Alice died at home of a heart attack on 22 September 1970 at the age of 101. She was buried in Cove Cemetery in Hadlyme.

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