In her opening remarks, Grant states that she has written this biography as an attempt to make more personal the story of the remarkable Hamilton than the subject did in her own autobiography, Exploring the Dangerous Trades: The Autobiography of Alice Hamilton, M.D. (1943). Hamilton was cooperative and supportive of the author in her work.
As a result of their close relationship, Grant’s portrayal of Hamilton’s life and work is consistently flattering and subjective. In only a few instances does Hamilton show her temper, such as a case of righteous indignation at the outcome of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial. She is continually described as dedicated, stoic, and completely sympathetic to the underprivileged. The book contains many anecdotes detailing Hamilton’s initial reactions to and subsequent aid for a variety of factory and mine workers who were subjected to unhealthy, stressful, and inhumane treatment. In 1911, she investigated factories using lead in enameling bathtubs and other fixtures and found that more than one-third of the workers were exposed to dangerous lead levels from breathing the lead-filled dust in the enameling rooms. Her reports resulted in stricter controls and greater health measures in this industry. Her consistently calm determination is admirable but often can be interpreted as emotionless. More cynical young adult readers might find this continually positive portrayal somewhat unrealistic.
(The entire section is 535 words.)
Grant’s biography of Hamilton is an important link in describing the chain of influential American women of the twentieth century. As an early female medical school graduate, she was one of the first women to carry the teachings of modern medicine beyond a local practice and to use them to influence health care and conditions on a nationwide scale. The conditions under which she studied, worked, and taught were strictly enforced by academic and government officials. She battled for acceptance and recognition in the early days of her career from her employers and from the factory owners whose unhealthy working conditions she wanted to correct. In spite of those restrictions, she was able to make significant gains in the public health of industrial workers and to become part of the changing attitudes toward women in both academia and the work force.
This particular volume is not well known, but it should be included on biographical book lists because it not only describes the life of an interesting and influential American but also makes clear the narrow attitudes toward independent intellectual women earlier in the twentieth century. As a result of reading this biography, young adult readers will gain helpful insights into the problems that women have faced and the successes that they have achieved.