Alice Hamilton was an American physician, research scientist, and author who is best known as a leading expert in the field of occupational health and a pioneer in the field of industrial toxicology. She was also the first woman appointed to the faculty of Harvard University. Her scientific research focused on the study of occupational illnesses and the dangerous effects of industrial metals and chemical compounds. In addition to her scientific work, Hamilton was a social-welfare reformer, humanitarian, peace activist, and a resident-volunteer at Hull House in Chicago. She was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, most notably the Lasker Award for her public-service contributions.
Hamilton began her long career in public health and workplace safety in 1910, when Illinois governor Charles S. Deneen appointed her as a medical investor to the newly-formed Illinois Commission on Occupational Diseases. Hamilton lead the commission's investigations, which focused on industrial poisons such as lead and other toxins. She also authored the "Illinois Survey," the commission's report that documented its findings of industrial processes that exposed workers to lead poisoning and other illnesses. The commission's efforts resulted in the passage of the first workers' compensation laws in Illinois in 1911, in Indiana in 1915, and occupational disease laws in other states. The new laws required employers to take safety precautions to protect workers. By 1916 Hamilton had become America's leading authority on lead poisoning. For the next decade she investigated a range of issues for a variety of state and federal health committees. Hamilton focused her explorations on occupational toxic disorders, examining the effects of substances such as aniline dyes, carbon monoxide, mercury, tetraethyl lead, radium, benzene, carbon disulfide and hydrogen sulfide gases.
Return to Homepage