July 2018



The fields of occupational epidemiology and toxicology are built largely on the pioneering work of Alice Hamilton (1869 – 1970). When Hamilton joined Northwestern University as a professor of pathology in 1897, she chose to move into a settlement community for working-class immigrants and
began investigating the toxic effects of chemical compounds and industrial metals on its inhabitants.

Her many findings, including a landmark study on white lead and lead oxide (used as pigments in the paint industry), inspired broad reforms in workplace health regulations.

By 1916, Hamilton was operating as a special investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and had become the nation’s leading authority on lead poisoning. Three years later she was appointed assistant professor of industrial medicine at the Harvard Medical School – becoming the first woman to join that university’s faculty. Shortly after her death in 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act to improve workplace safety.

Hamilton’s work shined a light on how technological progress, while advancing us as a race, can come at a price unless potential impacts are studied, well understood, and proactively addressed.


In 1947, Hamilton received the prestigious Lasker Award of the U.S. Public Health Association.

It recognized her landmark scientific accomplishments in occupational epidemiology and toxicology and for being an inspiration to all those in the field of public health.