Women’s History Month: Recognizing Alice Hamilton, the Mother of Occupational Health
Category: News and Updates , • March 1, 2022

Here at Luce Air Quality, we remain committed to providing trusted indoor air quality solutions to both residential and commercial property owners alike.

After all, it’s not just about keeping our neighbors’ homes safe — it’s also about making sure that local managers, owners, and employers are equipped with what they need to keep their employees both safe.

Of course, our industry wouldn’t be where it is in terms of commercial IAQ safety without Dr. Alice Hamilton, the “Mother of Occupational Health.”

Thus, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’d love to take this opportunity to tell you about her life and legacy:

On the Path to Pathology

Born in 1896 and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Alice Hamilton was born to a wealthy family and grew up as the second of four sisters.

Despite their overall lack of education in mathematics and science throughout their early school years, Hamilton ultimately decided to pursue an education in medicine at a coeducational school — all of which was still relatively abnormal for women during this period of history.

“In the 1890s there were about 4,500 female doctors in the United States, and most trained at women’s medical colleges,” according to the Americal Chemical Society (ACS). “Women had just begun to study at coeducational medical schools.”

Finally, after receiving her degree at the University of Michigan School of Medicine in 1893, Hamilton pivoted; namely, she decided to pursue pathology and bacteriology in lieu of clinical medicine.

Thus, she pursued further study on the topics in Germany and at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Then, upon her arrival in Chicago, she was appointed professor of pathology at the Women’s Medical School of Northwestern University.

Becoming the Mother of Occupational Health

Her appointment to the aforementioned university proved alluring to Hamilton not only for the position itself, but also because it offered her the opportunity to live in Jane Addams’ Hull-House, wherein wealthier individuals lived alongside poorer residents of the Chicago community.

It was during this time that Hamilton took an interest in occupational health and safety, as she was exposed to the reality of the deaths, illnesses, and injuries her neighbors sustained in the lower-class workplaces.

“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,” according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). “In 1907, Hamilton began exploring existing literature from abroad, noticing that industrial medicine was not being studied much in America.”

Thus, by 1908 she published what would become known as one of the very first articles on occupational disease(s), thereby paving the way to her recognition as an expert in her field. As a result, both the State of Illinois and the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics sponsored her, allowing her to conduct research on the matter of occupational toxic disorders.

“Relying primarily on ‘shoe leather epidemiology,’ and the emerging laboratory science of toxicology, she pioneered occupational epidemiology and industrial hygiene in the U.S,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains.

The results of these studies were revolutionary. As a matter of fact, her scientific findings were so sound and persuasive that waves of workplace health reforms swept across the nation.

The Legacy and Recognition of Alice Hamilton

Finally, in 1919, Alice Hamilton became the first-ever female member of Harvard University’s faculty and served as Assistant Professor of Industrial Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

During this time, she was able to complete two terms on the Health Committee of the League of Nations — also as the only female

Upon retirement in 1935, she then became a consultant to the U.S. Division of Labor Standards.

Several decades later, throughout which Hamilton received presidential recognition for her achievements and findings, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. The landmark act passed a mere three months after she had passed away.

Consequently, in 1987, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) dedicated its Ohio facility to Alice Hamilton in order to recognize her as the first American physician to have dedicated her career to occupational health.

The facility was named “the “Alice Hamilton Laboratory for Occupational Safety and Health.”

Here at Luce Air Quality, we are thankful for the effort, commitment, and legacy of Alice Hamilton. Without her, the field of indoor air quality would not be where it is today — and neither would our team!

So, as we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, we will continue to be inspired by her and other women — leaders, researchers, educators, technicians, and more — who have contributed to the forward momentum of our industry.

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