Alice Hamilton’s Battle Against Industrial Poisons.

Lead, TNT, and Rayon: Alice Hamilton’s Battle Against Industrial Poisons. (

For those who follow my blog, this is a subject I have often posted about, environmental activists, like Rachel Carson, Environmental Heroine and DDT, author of “Silent Spring”; or Fannie Farmer and Safe Foods when Harvey Wiley’s “Poison Squad” and Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was published; or Clean Water and Food Heroine Ellen Swallow Richards with the “Food and Drug Act.” And Radium Girls; This is exactly why we need regulations to uncover and outlaw when profits over people continue being an issue.

The lack of regulation in American industry during the early Twentieth Century is the stuff of horrific legend – from the grotesqueries of the meat industry as unveiled by Upton Sinclair to the addition of sub-standard and often hazardous materials to children’s milk in the dairy industry, we have many examples of the effects of that era’s industrial negligence on the consumers of its products.  Quick to outrage when presented with health risks to themselves in the consumption of a product, however, the American people were far harder to stir when it came to the health risks to the creators of those products. 

The industrial workers of America, who were either too poor or too ethnic to rouse the sympathy of a goods-hungry public, were in desperate need of someone with the scientific rigor to impress the owners of their factories, the social standing to speak on an equal footing with reform-minded members of the upper class, and the investigative gumption to tread where others wouldn’t in search of medical answers.  In 1910, they got their someone in the form of a forty year old doctor who had, up to that point, considered herself a diffuse failure, but who would thereafter earn a world reputation as the foremost expert on the manufacturing processes and chemicals that harm industrial workers.

The link above has much more about Alice’s struggles to be heard. It is women who tell the real stories of progress. It is women who are our hero’s and who are looking out for our needs. Facts and science rather than might and power.

To a woman bred among comfort and the refined condescensions of American Victorianism, slum life was a stomach-churning revelation.  Women giving birth to babies out of wedlock went from being the stuff of illustrated cautionary tales to a living reality which no amount of overstuffed moralizing could set straight.  People made mistakes and suffered and died as a result, and judging them for their actions, as she was wont to do when she first arrived, soon took second place to compassion and care. 

An innovator in medicine, Hamilton was also fearless in the public realm, standing by Jane Addams’s side as a pacifist while abuse was thrown upon them both by an America drunk on the prospect of entering World War I.  She traveled to the Soviet Union in 1924 and reported back favorably on their advanced workers’ health initiatives and gender equality to hissing audiences, and visited Nazi Germany in 1933 and 1938, which resulted in a series of articles lambasting the rise of fascism in Europe.  She spoke out for the creation of meaningful child labor laws, and for a sensible approach towards birth control education as a way of mitigating the misery of the tenements.  Always claiming to hate conflict, she was incapable of backing down before great moral wrongs no matter the cost to herself, which earned her the grudging respect of her more conservative family members, and a position on the government’s suspected socialist agitator list well into her nineties.

 This paragraph shows her commitment to workers’ rights. Just because she traveled to the Soviet Union in 1924 she was forever labeled as a socialist agitator. What about those today who seem to praise the Soviet aggressions? This is why HIStory is being rewritten. It’s why I blog!

Most of the women heroines I write about have had some recognitions, but you have to know where to look. 
She is memorialized here in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Lead, TNT, and Rayon: Alice Hamilton’s Battle Against Industrial Poisons.
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