Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 27: Alice Hamilton (1869-1970)

Living in a working-class quarter, coming in contact with laborers and their wives, I could not fail to hear tales of the dangers that workingmen faced, of cases of carbon-monoxide gassing in the great steel mills, of painters disabled by lead palsy, of pneumonia and rheumatism among the men in the stockyards. Illinois then had no legislation providing compensation for accident or disease caused by occupation. (There is something strange in speaking of 'accident and sickness compensation.' What could 'compensate' anyone for an amputated leg or a paralyzed arm, or even an attack of lead colic, to say nothing of the loss of a husband or son?)
Ever met someone with phossy jaw? How about painter's colic? Probably not, if you live in the West; the early 20th century saw a successful movement in the US and Europe to improve workplace safety and hold employers accountable for hazardous conditions in the manufacturing process. One of the scientists at the forefront of research on industrial medicine in the US was Alice Hamilton, born on this date in 1869 (image at right is her portrait on a 55-cent US postage stamp), in Indiana. She was a longtime resident of Jane Addams' Hull House, the first woman on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, an active member of the Woman's Peace Party, and she lived long enough to denounce McCarthyism and US involvement in Vietnam. Read here from her memoir how she became interested in industrial medicine, and the resistance she faced in trying to study workplace hazards (the quote above is an excerpt).


. said...

Yet another foolish workplace-induced illness:

the factory bosses told the workers to lick their radium-laced paintbrushes to make thin glow-in-the-dark paint brushstrokes. *shudder*

Undark and the Radium Girls

[...]In 1922, a bank teller named Grace Fryer became concerned when her teeth began to loosen and fall out for no discernible reason. Her troubles were compounded when her jaw became swollen and inflamed, so she sought the assistance of a doctor in diagnosing the inexplicable symptoms. Using a primitive X-ray machine, the physician discovered serious bone decay, the likes of which he had never seen. Her jawbone was honeycombed with small holes, in a random pattern reminiscent of moth-eaten fabric.

As a series of doctors attempted to solve Grace's mysterious ailment, similar cases began to appear throughout her hometown of New Jersey. One dentist in particular took notice of the unusually high number of deteriorated jawbones among local women, and it took very little investigation to discover a common thread; all of the women had been employed by the same watch-painting factory at one time or another.[...]

Anonymous said...

Many workers suffer an accident at work in their professional lifetime. Unfortunately some are unsure of their rights and if they have a claim for compensation. Unfortunately many people attempt frivolous law suits attempting to get money out of their employer, while genuinely injured people who are out of work stay quiet. People should know their rights they may be eligible for compensation to cover medical bills or time out of work. if you are worried about jeopardising your job talk to a professional for advice about your rights and look at other peoples case studies to give you an idea of what other people have successfully claimed for.