Alice Hamilton: Exploring the Dangerous Trades

Janet Golden, a professor of history at Rutgers-Camden, has written a column about Alice Hamilton for womensvoicesforchange.org.

Alice Hamilton has fascinated me for 30 years. But who knows about her? She’s been pictured on the 55-cent stamp, it’s true, yet she’s still on that long list of women who come under the heading  “Remarkable but Little-Known.” That’s why I’ve chosen her for this post  in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Hamilton’s specialty, back in the early part of the 20th century, was industrial medicine (a new field whose mission was to prevent factories from poisoning their workers). But what I remember most clearly from my reading of Barbara Sicherman’s marvelous Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (1984)  is the petty matter of the football tickets.

By 1919, when Hamilton was hired as the first woman professor at Harvard Medical School (40 years before the university accepted women as undergraduates), she was world-renowned as a researcher in industrial medicine.

That expertise qualified her to hold the position of assistant professor of industrial medicine—a great breakthrough for a woman. But it did not qualify her to receive the football tickets that were issued to the other professors, or allow her admission to the Harvard Club, or let her sit on the platform at graduation. Those small humiliations were simply a sign of the times: Acknowledgment of a woman’s expertise had to be firmly tied to a reaffirmation of her second-class status.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in: Research Highlights

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