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In Pursuit of a Grand Cause

Banner exhibit highlighting students and faculty of the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School

Alice Hamilton, MD (1869-1970)

By Abebi Espinoza, Special Collections Library Assistant

Alice Hamilton began her career as a professor of pathology at the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School in 1897. She lived at Hull House and befriended other women known for social reform such as Jane Addams and Florence Kelly. Not far from her residence she noticed poverty and a high rate of disease among the immigrant population. This sparked her interest and study of what is now known as occupational health. 

Hamilton was appointed Special Investigator for the United States Bureau of Labor in 1911. Her studies focused on lead and its link to high mortality rates among factory workers. She educated employers and individuals in the medical industry on workplace hazards and industrial diseases among the immigrant working class. 

In 1919, Hamilton became Assistant Professor of Industrial Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She was the first woman professor at Harvard University. She authored the books Industrial Poisons in the United States in 1925 and Industrial Toxicology in 1934. After her retirement from Harvard, she continued her work with industrial disease as a consultant in the Division of Labor Standards within the Department of Labor.