Alice Hamilton (1869-1970)



Alice Hamilton, MD (February 27, 1869 - September 22, 1970) was the founder of occupational medicine. The first female faculty member at Harvard Medical School, Alice Hamilton was well known for her research in the field of industrial toxic substances. Hamilton helped advocate for fair worker's compensation laws and fought for workplace environments free of dangerous chemicals.


Alice Hamilton was born in 1869 to Montgomery Hamilton and Gertrude Hamilton (née Pond), in New York City, New York and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was the second of four girls, all of whom remained close throughout their childhood and into their professional careers. Among her sisters was classicist Edith Hamilton. Alice was home schooled and completed her early education at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, as did her sister Edith Hamilton. Hamilton read widely and cited a literary influence for inspiring her to become a physician: "I meant to be a medical missionary to Teheran, having been fascinated by the description of Persia in [Edmond] O'Donovan's The Merv Oasis. I doubted if I could ever be good enough to be a real missionary, but if I could care for the sick, that would do instead." 

In 1893, she received her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School, and then completed internships at the Minneapolis Hospital for Women and Children and the New England Hospital for Women and Children.

Hamilton traveled to Europe to study bacteriology and pathology at universities in Munich and Leipzig from 1895 to 1897. When she returned to the United States, she continued her postgraduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. In 1897, she moved to Chicago, where she became a professor of pathology at the Woman's Medical School of Northwestern University.

Soon after moving to Chicago, Hamilton became a member and resident of Hull House, the settlement house founded by social reformer Jane Addams. Living side by side with the poor residents of the community, she became increasingly interested in the problems workers faced, especially occupational injuries and illnesses. The study of 'industrial medicine' (the illnesses caused by certain jobs) had become increasingly important since the Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth century had led to new dangers in the workplace. In 1907, Hamilton began exploring existing literature from abroad, noticing that industrial medicine was not being studied much in America. She set out to change this, and in 1908 published her first article on the topic.