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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... Dr. Alice Hamilton, the mother of American occupational and public health. She was also the first woman to be hired as a professor at Harvard, eighty years ago.


CURWOOD: Eighty years ago, Harvard University hired its first woman faculty member. Her name was Alice Hamilton, and she was appointed assistant professor at the medical school, but she was not allowed to join the Harvard Club, march in the commencement procession, or even obtain tickets to football games. Those obstacles did not keep Dr. Hamilton from doing pioneering work to research and reform urban and industrial environmental conditions. And she is today considered America's mother of occupational and public health.

During her career, Dr. Hamilton argued against putting lead into gasoline when that idea was first proposed. Her investigations exposed the connections between sewage outflows in Chicago and a serious typhoid epidemic, and led to sanitation improvements that became a model for the nation. Dr. Hamilton's work drew praise from many quarters, including the White House. In a letter to a friend, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this of Dr. Hamilton after attending an event in her honor: "So gentle and unassuming, and yet look what she has done. She has probably given the impetus to workman's compensation and research into industrial disease and saved countless lives and heartbreaks." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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