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CELEBRATING WOMEN IN MEDICINE
Published on September 13, 2019
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ALICE HAMILTON

Anne Jacobson

The squalid streets of working-class Chicago in the late nineteenth century would have been something of a shock to the girl who grew up in a sheltered but educated household in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her siblings all distinguished themselves as scholars, educators, and artists, encouraged by their mother, Gertrude, who taught all of her children, including her daughters, to achieve as well as to be of service. For Alice, this desire to be of service, a curious and active mind, and a wish for adventure and independence, formed her ambition to become a physician. More women were beginning to enter the field of medicine in the late 1800’s, but it was still by no means a common endeavor. While the Hamilton children had been taught literature and the classics at home, and the sisters later studied at a New England girls’ boarding school, Alice lacked the science background that would allow her to pursue a medical education. She worked to close this gap by studying with a nearby high school teacher, then entered a small, local medical college and tried to convince her dubious father of her intentions.

She could have completed her studies at the “little third-rate” medical school and gone on to practice locally, but Alice Hamilton wished to receive a serious education as a laboratory scientist.

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