The autobiography of DOCTOK ALICE HAMILTON
“Protection of workers in the dangerous trades is the chief but not the only subject of this book. Other things have played a great part in my life. I should never have taken up the cause of the working class had I not lived at Hull-House and learned much from Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, and others. Hull-House is not an episode of the past; its influence goes on, and it deserves a tribute from one of its devoutest followers. The years from 1915 to 1942 have been full of issues more tremendous than the struggle of Labor for its rights; and living as I did with Jane Addams, I could not escape being drawn into the peace movement and the efforts to reconstruct Europe after the Armistice. So that too enters into the picture. And childhood and student life, the men I worked under in school and laboratory, the background of Fort Wayne, Mackinac, Chicago, later on of Boston and Hadlyme—these are all significant parts of the picture I have tried to paint, a picture of life as I have seen it under the period of passionate and hopeful idealism in the nineties; of slowly increasing disillusion culminating in the shock of war in 1914; of the war years with their intolerance and bitterness and wave of reaction; of the ‘giddy twenties’ where, underneath the surface froth, I saw unemployment and exploitation; the soberer thirties with the increasing movement toward social justice. During those years I saw Europe at war, I saw the result of the starvation blockade of Germany and Austria, and the Quaker work of relief; I joined the League of Nations committee to fight disease; went to visit Russia under Lenin; took part in the SaccoVanzetti case; saw Germany under the early months of Hitler’s rule, Germany and France during the ‘Munich betrayal.’ All these go to make up my book.”
EXPLORING THE DANGEROUS TRADES
by ALICE HAMILTON
THIRTY-TWO years ago, in 1910, I went as a pioneer into a new, unexplored field of American medicine, the field of industrial disease. This book is a record of what I found there thirty-two years ago, and of the changes that have taken place in that region through the years that have followed, and of what still remains to be done before we can say that the wilderness has been conquered and the country completely civilized.
It was while I was living in Hull-House and working in bacteriological research that the opportunity came to me to investigate the dangerous trades of Illinois — not those where violent accidents occurred, but those with the less spectacular hazard of sickness from some industrial poison.
In 1910, Governor Charles S. Deneen appointed a commission to investigate “occupational diseases in Illinois.” It was a voyage of exploration that we undertook, our little group of physicians and student assistants, for nobody in Illinois knew even where we should make our investigations, beyond a few notorious lead trades. American medical authorities had never taken industrial diseases seriously, the American Medical Association had never held a meeting on the subject, and while European journals were full of articles on industrial poisoning, the number published in American medical journals up to 1910 could be counted on one’s fingers. For a surgeon or physician to accept a position with a manufacturing company was to earn the contempt of his colleagues as a “contract doctor.” As for factory inspection and control, we never discovered a trace of it.
This ignorance and indifference was not confined to the medical profession: employers and workers shared it — that is, employers could, if they wished, shut their eyes to the dangers their workmen faced, for nobody held them responsible; and the workers accepted the risks with fatalistic submissiveness as part of the price one must pay for being poor.
As I look back, some striking pictures come to me of that anarchic period. One is the picture of the works manager of a big white-lead plant, a gentleman of breeding and something of a philanthropist. He is looking at me indignantly and exclaiming, “Why, that sounds as if you think that when a man gets lead poisoning in my plant I ought to be held responsible!” Another is that of a Hungarian woman at Hull-House, telling me of a terrible accident in a steel mill on the South Shore, in which her husband had been injured. He and the other victims were being held incommunicado in the company hospital. No one was allowed to see them; the woman knew nothing except that her husband was not dead. It took a formal protest from the Hungarian Consul to the State Department to change that system.
It was not that employers were brutal. They really did not know what was happening in their plants, for there was no system of workmen’s compensation to open their eyes to the hazards and to force safety measures. The workman might sue for damages, and that fact led to the sort of secrecy the steel industry and other big concerns practiced. But even if he was seriously injured, it was hard for him to get past the strong defenses erected by law for the employer: the “assumption of risk,” which meant that he had deliberately chosen to run the risk inherent in the job; the “negligence of a fellow workman,” which meant that he, not the employer, was responsible for the carelessness of the other employees. When we wonder why the workers did not rebel, we must remember that big industry employed almost exclusively immigrant labor at that time. In the heavy industries especially, the rule was to work the men as hard as possible, — the seven-day week and twelve-hour day continued in steel until 1922, — pay them as low wages as possible, and then, when American ideas began to penetrate and revolt to raise its head, to put it down with force, discharge and blacklist the troublemakers, and start afresh with a new lot of immigrants. In this procedure they were greatly helped by the courts of law and by state constabulary forces.
Many times in those early days I met men who employed foreign-born labor because it was cheap and submissive, and then washed their hands of all responsibility for accidents and sickness in the plant, because: “What can you do with a lot of ignorant Dagoes, Wops, Hunkies, Greasers? You couldn’t make them wash if you took a shotgun to them.” They deliberately chose such men because it meant no protest against low wages and wretched housing and dangerous work, no trouble with union agents, a surplus of eager, undemanding labor. They wanted to have men whom they could deal with as if they were children, but in that case they should have treated them with the protective care and patient guidance that children are entitled to. They had all the advantages of the system; they took, for the most part, none of the responsibilities that it entailed.
Another defense used by the employer was alcoholism. The men were sick because they drank, and the employer did not need to prove it. He never went through the list of employees and showed that the ones who suffered from lead poisoning were the alcoholics. He just asserted it, and it quieted his conscience. There is no form of industrial poisoning, from lead to dinitrobenzol, from mercury to carbon tetrachloride and nitric acid, which I have not heard some man attribute to whiskey. Yet a hundred years ago, Tanquerel des Planches, the great French authority on plumbism, declared that the men who succumbed to lead poisoning were not by any means only the drunkards; some of his severest cases were in men who led sober and frugal lives. I used to suggest gently to my medical colleagues that it would be useful to have actual figures showing how alcoholism favored plumbism, but none of them seemed to be interested in collecting such proof, although they held to the theory firmly.
Through those thirty-odd years I have seen great changes in the attitude of labor — very deep changes, because the influence of American ideas has had time to work on the generation of men and women who now make up the labor force. But back in those early years I used to despair of relief for the overworked, underpaid immigrant laborers, who took with hopeless submission whatever was given them, who rarely ever dreamed of protesting, much less rebelling. It was they who did the heavy, hot, dirty, and dangerous work of tlie country. In return for it they met little but contempt from more fortunate Americans. The men killed in the mines or in construction work or in the steel mills would almost all be foreigners. Immigration was pushed with great diligence after the Civil War, and labor was so abundant that the Chicago stockyards boasted that their gates were besieged each morning by a crowd of five or six hundred men, clamoring for the few available jobs. The Carnegie Company’s principle of a high tariff to shut out cheap foreign-made goods, and a wide-open door to let in cheap foreign labor, resulted in the building up of great fortunes; but measured in terms of human welfare it was cruel and ruthless.
Yet in spite of the neglect of the doctors and the medieval backwardness of the lawmakers, the picture of that period is not all black; it is lightened by some remarkable instances of wise and humane employers, who were far in advance of their times.
Our procedure in the Illinois survey and in the work which I carried on later for the Federal government was completely informal. We had no authority to enter any plant, we had no instructions as to which we should visit; we simply explored the State. When we found a place which seemed to belong in our field, we asked permission to enter it. Never were we refused; never did I, at least, meet with anything but courtesy in those early days. Sometimes it was because the manager was proud of his plant and eager to show it (even when it was outrageously bad); sometimes it was because he had a strong suspicion that all was not well with his men and he really wanted more light. As to the way we should deal with the conditions we found, that was a question for each of us to settle. The State Commission expected me to report back to it and in such a way that no factory described in the report could be identified. That I did, of course, but I could not feel that my whole responsibility was thereby discharged. I was the only one who had seen the men working on the Scotch hearths in the smelters, emptying the baghouse and flues, sandpapering the lead-painted ceilings of Pullman cars, shoveling the white lead from the drying pans. How could I hope that a cold, printed report which would satisfy the Commission would serve to do away with these pressing dangers? There was no use in going to the factory inspectors; they were ignorant and powerless.
So, from the first, I made it a rule to try to bring before the responsible man at the top the dangers I had discovered in his plant and to persuade him to take the simple steps which even I, with no engineering knowledge, could see were needed. As I look back on it now from this changed world of “safety first,” expert factory inspection, the National Safety Council, industrial insurance companies, strict compensation laws, it astonishes and amuses me to see how very well this primitive method often worked. I must recite a few instances, for they redound so much to the credit of the American manufacturer. Was it not Santayana who said that “it is by his kindness that one recognizes an American ”? I cannot go so far as that; I have some bitter memories, and they involve not the small and struggling manufacturer, but so-called “captains of industry.” Still, they are few compared to my pleasant memories, for the arrogant and cold-blooded employer has, in my experience, made up a very small minority.
I should put first my experience with a beautiful new white-lead works which had been carefully planned to provide as much protection for the men as possible. But when I visited it I found that it was already, after a few months of operation, in a wretched way. This was, as it so often is, simply a matter of bad housekeeping — heaps of dry white lead lying where they had no business to be, and other lots trucked about and dumped with no care at all. The manager was deeply vexed and hurt by my criticism; I could do nothing with him. The head of the company lived in an Eastern city; I might write to him, but he was old and no longer in active charge. Then I remembered that his daughter was a friend of one of my Farmington schoolmates, and I wrote to her, telling her frankly of my dilemma and asking her if I should appeal to her father, or if not, to whom. Only a short time later I received a formal letter saying that a representative of the firm would call on me. He did. He took careful notes of all my suggestions and evidently followed them, for the plant was put in shape and I was asked to check up on it from time to time.
Across the river from St. Louis, in East St. Louis, I met a man who even in 1910 was genuinely concerned about the evil of lead poisoning in the white-lead industry, and had a feeling of personal responsibility toward it. This was Frank Hammer, of Hammer Brothers’ White Lead. He was struggling with the problem, assisted not very helpfully by a doctor who advised him to make the men wear rubber gloves. We kept in touch with each other for many years after that visit. It was Mr. Hammer who, when I was at Harvard, induced the Lead Institute to endow a three-year research on the action of lead in the animal body, and entrusted Harvard Medical School with the task. This endowment made possible the studies of Joseph C. Aub and his colleagues — studies which are still our best source of knowledge of how lead operates and how lead poisoning can be prevented.
Even more important reforms followed my contact with the National Lead Company, which had several white-lead and lead-oxide works in and near Chicago. I visited them and found much dangerous work going on in all of them. One of the vice presidents, Edward Cornish, later president, came to Chicago. I went to see him in the Sangamon Street works. He was both indignant and incredulous when I told him I was sure men were being poisoned in those plants. He had never heard of such a thing; it could not be true; they were model plants. He went to the door and shouted to a passing workman to come in. “Did the lead ever make you sick?” he demanded. The man, a badly scared Slav, stammered, “No, no, never sick.” “Any other men sick?” demanded Mr. Cornish. “No, no, all good.” And the poor man escaped quickly. “There,” said Mr. Cornish, “you see!” “But I do not see,” I answered. “Your men are breathing white-lead dust and red lead and litharge and the fumes from the oxide furnaces. They are no different from other men; a poison is a poison to them as it is to any man.” He thought a moment and then he said, “Now, see here. I don’t believe you are right, but I can see you do. Very well then, it is up to you to convince me. Come back here with proof that my men are being leaded and I give you my word I will follow all your directions, even to employing plant doctors.”
It was not an easy task I faced, tracking down actual, proved cases of lead poisoning among men who came from the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Polish sections of the West and Northwest Sides and were not even known by name to the employing office, let alone by street and number! It meant digging up hospital records, for I had to be sure of the diagnosis, then a search for the home, and finally an interview with the wife to discover where the man had been working, for of course no hospital interne ever noted where the victim of plumbism had acquired the lead. Hospital history sheets noted carefully all the facts about tobacco, alcohol, and even coffee consumed by the leaded man, though obviously he was not suffering from those poisons; but curiosity as to how he became poisoned with lead was not in the interne’s mental make-up.
In the end I was able to present Mr. Cornish with authentic records of twenty-two cases of plumbism severe enough to require hospital care. He was better than his word. Beginning with the Sangamon Street works, he went on to reform all the plants in the Chicago region, and this meant dust and fume prevention, often by methods which had never before been worked out. There were no models to follow; the engineers faced new problems. As each problem was solved, Mr. Cornish sent the blueprints to the plants in other States and later on, when I visited these, invariably I found the same changes being introduced. I had told Mr. Cornish he could never fully protect his men unless he employed doctors to keep strict watch over their condition, to make at least a cursory inspection of each lead worker once a week. He accepted this recommendation without protest, and before our report was published there was a medical department in each plant of the National Lead Company in Illinois. I have met many admirable men in industry throughout these thirty-two years, but my warmest gratitude and admiration go to Edward Cornish.
In 1911, one year after the publication of the Survey of Occupational Diseases, Illinois passed a law providing compensation for industrial diseases caused by poisonous fumes, gases, or dusts. The reforms that followed the passage of this law were swift and drastic. Employers found they must insure against possible claims, and the insurance companies saw to it that the causes for such claims were removed. One by one, but slowly, other States passed similar laws, until by 1937 almost all the important industrial States and a few of the non-industrial ones had passed legislation providing compensation for industrial diseases. Invariably reforms in the dangerous trades followed. Two great industrial States held out for years: Michigan waited till 1937, Pennsylvania till 1938. Pennsylvania’s law is still a meager concession to the pressure of modern progress. No compensation is to be paid to the widow and orphans of a workman killed in industry if they live in a foreign country. Moreover, the compensation provided is niggardly. I have before me a letter about an award recently granted by a court of appeal in that State to a widow for whose husband’s death carbon disulphide was claimed to be responsible. The award is for only $1.50 a week. Yet a great Pennsylvania company has fought the claim for three years, refusing to admit that carbon disulphide is an industrial poison.
It is a pity that one cannot cite a single instance to the credit of the organized industrialists in all this struggle to obtain for American workmen the sort of protection provided years ago in European industrial countries. But the truth is that the National Association of Manufacturers has fought the passage of occupational-disease compensation as it has fought laws against child labor and against sweatshops, laws establishing a minimum wage for women, a maximum working day, and adequate factory inspection, and almost every other measure aimed to protect the health of workers. Members of the N.A.M. are in many instances humane and benevolent employers. But as an organization they have shown themselves to be as devoid of a sense of responsibility to the public as the most self-seeking of the tradeunions. I have gone before legislative committees in Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts and I have invariably found the salaried representative of the manufacturers there in opposition.
Perhaps it is our instinctive American lawlessness that prompts us to oppose all legal control, even when we are willing to do of our own accord what the law requires. But I believe it is more the survival in American industry of the feudalistic spirit, for democracy has never yet really penetrated into many of our greatest industries.
Yet great changes have come in these thirtytwo years; great reforms in industrial hygiene have been brought about, by the joint effort of physicians and legislators. Far from being ignored, industrial medicine is now one of the most important medical branches, and hundreds of doctors choose it as their specialty. The Public Health Service has a large division devoted to industrial medicine; the Department of Labor has its Division of Labor Standards, which acts as a guide to State factory-inspection services. There are even a few State Labor Departments that are free from political interference and do a good job.
Labor too has changed. It is no longer willing to submit to preventable ills. Workmen now are graduates of our public schools, where they have been taught that all men are created equal, that any boy has a chance to be President, that America is the land of opportunity, and all the rest. Naturally such a lad faces his employer with a spirit different from that of his peasant father from the Old World. He steps from a world of democratic ideals in school to a feudalistic industrial world, and he makes the adjustment with difficulty. I think we are now just at the stage when feudalism still holds sway in much of the industrial world while all the rest of our American world proclaims democracy. No wonder there is unrest — more unrest even than there was under the old, bad system; for the submissive spirit is gone. And though the conspicuous evils in industrial work have been removed to a great extent, there are still evils against which the modern American rebels.
Even under short hours and fair wages there is unrest. But we must not forget that modern work is different from what our race has been used to for aeons. We cannot adjust ourselves to it all of a sudden. Compare the sort of work a man on a punch press does with the work his ancestors did through the ages. Work used to be heavy and hard, but there was enough sameness in it to provide for a growing skill and enough variety to keep a man interested. You cannot fell two trees in exactly the same way, nor dig two ditches exactly alike. Moreover, a man could set his own pace, speed up for a bit, then slow down. Now a great deal of work requires no skill, and the machine sets the pace and makes the man feel he is its slave, not its master. He loses pride in his work and he loses his sense of individual importance.
The studies of the Fatigue Laboratory of Harvard and the investigation made at the Western Electric Company in Chicago of what makes men and women work well have given a scientific foundation to the truth some of us discovered years ago: that factors more important than wages or conditions of work influence the temper of the worker. In Chicago, I once talked to a group of girls who looked as if they were all suffering from hay fever of a severe form because they had been working in a room where the air was full of strongly alkaline soap powder. I asked them why they stood it. “Well,” one of them said, “we’re always saying we’ll quit, but then Tom comes along. He’s the foreman and he’s a swell guy and he jollies us along and we stay.” Out in the Arizona copper country I found that one of the very worst mines, in point of dust, poor lighting, and lack of safety devices, was the one that stood highest in the estimation of the miners because the manager was “white, square. You can talk to him.” Soon after I had returned East I found myself sitting next to Sam Lewisohn at a dinner. I told him of my visit to his admirably run mine, the “Inspiration” in Miami, and of my astonishment to find it was rated lower by the men than one that was vastly inferior. We discussed the labor troubles out there and he told me how they had distressed him and his brother. “But what can one do?” he asked. “One hires men to get out copper, and finds that they are experts in that job but idiots when it comes to handling men. Yet one can’t oust them and put in experts in human relations, because they know nothing about copper. The institutes of technology simply must face this fact and begin to teach engineers psychology.” That is now a commonplace, but Sam Lewisohn may have started the movement to introduce this new subject into the curricula of schools of engineering.
The Harvard investigators have no doubt at all that the economic motive is not the strongest one governing industrial workers. They say that it is entirely possible for an industrial company to give good wages and to provide in every way for the welfare of the men and yet have strikes — because the men in charge fail to understand the psychology of their employees; they believe that wages and hours are all-important; they ignore men’s tendency to form social groups with codes and loyalties for mutual defense, all of which help to make a man feel he is a personality, that he has some control. Let him be tied to a machine which sets his pace and determines every action, let him be given no voice in the planning of his job, and you produce in him an “experience of personal futility,” “of pessimistic revery.” To join with his fellows in an organization is the only escape from this humiliating position, and that organization may be effective even if it is quite informal. Perhaps this point will be illuminating to the people who cannot tolerate strikes carried on “only” for the right to organize.
Protection of workers in the dangerous trades is the chief but not the only subject of this book. Other things have played a great part in my life. I should never have taken up the cause of the working class had I not lived at Hull-House and learned much from Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, and others. Hull-House is not an episode of the past; its influence goes on, and it deserves a tribute from one of its devoutest followers. The years from 1914 to 1942 have been full of issues more tremendous than the struggle of Labor for its rights; and living as I did with Jane Addams, I could not escape being drawn into the peace movement and the efforts to reconstruct Europe after the Armistice. So that too enters into the picture. And childhood and student life, the men I worked under in school and laboratory, the background of Fort Wayne, Mackinac, Chicago, later on of Boston and Hadlyme — these are all significant parts of the picture I have tried to paint, a picture of life as I have seen it under the period of passionate and hopeful idealism in the nineties; of slowly increasing disillusion culminating in the shock of war in 1914; of the war years with their intolerance and bitterness and wave of reaction; ol the “giddy twenties” where, underneath the surface froth, I saw unemployment and exploitation; the soberer thirties with the increasing movement toward social justice. During those years I saw Europe at war, I saw the result of the starvation blockade of Germany and Austria, and the Quaker work of relief; I joined the League of Nations committee to fight disease; went to visit Russia under Lenin; took part in the SaccoVanzetti case; saw Germany under the early months of Hitler’s rule, Germany and France during the “Munich betrayal.”All these go to make up my book.
My childhood home was Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my father’s father had come as a young man from the North of Ireland and his father had joined him later, so that my generation was the fourth to live in what we called the Old House. I should have been born there as my two younger sisters were, but my mother went home to her mother in New York to have her second baby. I always have to give New York City as my birthplace, most inappropriately, for I left it at the age of six weeks and I really belong to Indiana.
We were four sisters born within six years’ time, which was hard on our mother but made for close intimacy from our earliest childhood. Years later, when I was just seventeen, there was an aftermath in the shape of the first boy, my brother Arthur, who is always known as Quint because we dubbed him that when an old German gentleman said to my father, “You should call your son Primus, Mr. Hamilton.” “Indeed no,” we said, “he is only Quintus” — and Quintus he has been ever since.
Edith, the first-born in our family, though only eighteen months older than I, always seemed much more mature, partly because she was a passionate reader while I was a reluctant one, partly because she went with the older cousins and I joined the younger group. Edith read everything she could lay her hands on, except the few forbidden books in my father’s library: the Decameron of Boccaccio, the Heptameron of Marguerite of Navarre, Eugène Sue’s Wandering Jew, and a few others I have forgotten. She was a natural storyteller, and on the long walks my mother insisted on our taking every day, Edith would give us résumés of Scott, Bulwer-Lytton and De Quincey. She could not understand my childish tastes in books and she would stop at an exciting spot, such as Amy Robsart’s death in Kenilworth, and say, “Now you’ve got to finish it yourself.” Sometimes I did, but sometimes I slipped back to the Katy books, to her infinite disgust.
Margaret is two and a half years younger than I, but because she was the only one of us who had ill-health as a child, she did not seem really younger. Today her sore throat and rheumatic pains and listlessness would be traced to infected tonsils, the source would be removed, and she would emerge from chronic ill-health; but in those days the old family doctor had no remedy except quinine, and all my mother could offer was sea-salt baths and long hours on the sofa. This meant reading and thinking for Margaret, while the rest of us were playing football and climbing trees, and it made her the quiet, stable, thoughtful one among us.
Norah, the youngest, was my father’s special pet and pride. When she early showed her talent for drawing, he used to call her his genius. We never felt jealous because we were not geniuses; indeed the relations between us four were so intimate and understanding that when one of us would be singled out for admiration by a not too discerning parent, it would only amuse both the praised and the unpraised. Norah was as vivid and intense as Margaret was steady — with her it was rapture or tragedy, and so of course she was terribly vulnerable to the sort of teasing and baiting that children love to inflict when they find an easy victim.
Fort Wayne was an attractive little city in those days. The streets were shaded by elms and maples; the sidewalks were of mellowed red brick, for asphalt had not yet spread its ugly way across our cities. There were a number of fine old houses dating back before the Civil War, some of them showing the Southern tradition which was strong in Fort Wayne’s early days. Our most important street is Calhoun Street, and we have streets named for Clay, Douglas, Breckinridge, but none for Lincoln. The Civil War split the Presbyterian Church in two and must have caused deep division between citizens.
My Hamilton grandfather’s house, which we called the Old House, was a large, substantial brick house, built in 1840 with three stories and a two-storied ell and a basement kitchen. Like most houses of a hundred years ago, it was built for beauty, space, dignity, not for comfort and convenience. The ceilings were fourteen feet high, the rooms were spacious, and a woodburning furnace made little impression on the cold of our Indiana winter. There were open fires in every room. Nobody thought of the endless carrying of wood, coal, ashes, up and down the long stairways, for there was always a “hired man,” who had little else to do in winter. There were also plenty of housemaids to carry clean water upstairs and dirty water downstairs in those pre-plumbing days. On top of the house was what we called the “cupalo,” a square little room, big enough for a crowd of us and never disturbed by the grownups.
Our frame house was the White House; my uncle’s in lhe same grounds was the Red House, and of brick. Neither was so big as the Old House, and the ceilings were somewhat lower; the furnaces burned coal and there were running water and a bathroom, so much had comfort progressed between 1840 and 1873. But space and dignity were still the first, desiderata. Our hall was vast, and the rooms, library, parlor, dining room, opened into it by triple doors of black walnut; but as it could never be heated in winter, those doors had to be kept shut. The wide stairs were also black walnut. Of a winter’s night, when the house was very still, a ghost might start at the attic door and come creaking down the two flights to the hall. This happened one evening when I was quite alone in the library, reading the fearsome tale of black magic in The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
There was one great advantage in our big house, — one that more than made up for the inadequate furnace, — and that was the opportunity for escape, for solitude. One could curl up in the big armchair in the library or hide in the parlor — or, if the others were persistent, there was a refuge at the top of the attic stairs and, in warm weather, out on a bit of flat roof which could be reached from the billiard room window. In spring and fall there were endless hiding places in lilac hedges or up in the thick leaves of an apple tree.
Allen Hamilton, my grandfather, the pioneer ancestor, came to Fort Wayne when it was still very primitive, an outpost in a land of Indians. His career was typical of America in those days. He dealt with Indians at first, and the tales that have come down to us show that his fairness won their confidence and respect. He played a large part in the development of the city and was one of a small group of men who put through the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago railroad. He was ambitious for his family, sending his sons not only to college but to Göttingen and Jena Universities, his daughters to Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. He was Scotch-Irish and my father always stressed the first word, but we children were fascinated by the Irish part and loved to hear tales of an old Irish Katy who came over with the family and who saw fairies and heard the banshee wail when our grandfather died.
He found his bride in Aurora, an older, more settled community on the Ohio River, not far from Cincinnati. My grandmother always spoke of “going in” when she went home and “going out” when she returned to what in her youth had been the frontier. She was only seventeen when she went with her young husband to that distant spot where somehow she learned to preside over a large household and where she bore eleven children. The first four years of my life were spent in that house; and although we later lived in a house of our own, it was on the same big place, and the Old House with its orchard and cow pasture and extensive “yard" (nobody had “grounds” in those days) was as important a background for my life as our own place.
There were eleven cousins living in the same big place. We needed no “outsiders,” having our own games, our own traditions and rules of conduct. Eight of us played together, being near enough of an age. Once we were out ot doors we were free, except for a few prohibitions which we always observed, for we were obedient. We were also truthful; that is, we told nothing but the truth. We did not always tell the whole truth, for we argued that the less the impulsive and incalculable grownups knew, the better for them and us. Thus, when Allen’s wooden sword cut my forehead I ran to the pump and struck the place against the iron handle so that I could truthfully say that the handle had hit me, and not risk the chance of having tournaments forbidden. We lived in our own world, a child s world which we left only briefly to enter the far less real one of the grownups.
Three of us were very close in age, born within five months — Agnes Hamilton, Allen Hamilton Williams, and I. We were known in the family circle as the three A’s. Growing up together we were the closest of friends and intimates, especially Agnes and I, for Allen spent his winters at school in Boston, while Agnes and I went to Farmington together.
As we grew into our teens, games gave way to long walks or sessions up in a big apple tree or on the rafters of the carriage house, with talks about everything, from theology to our plans for life. For some years my plans for the future were definite. I meant to be a medical missionary to Teheran, having been fascinated by the description of Persia in O’Donovan’s The Merv Oasis. I doubted if I could ever be good enough to be a real missionary; but if I could care for the sick, that would do instead, and it would enable me to explore far countries and meet strange people. Later Agnes and I read Charles Kingsley and Frederick Denison Maurice and became interested in the English social question; and though we knew nothing about American social evils, life in a big city, exploring the slums, began to seem to me as tempting as Persia.
Fort Wayne, outside our own yard, touched us chiefly through the church, which played a large part in our lives — not so much socially, for we were fairly self-contained socially, but as a pervading background, as something that came next to home and family. My father’s family was Presbyterian and we all went to the First Presbyterian Church, a lovely Christopher Wren building of red brick with wide steps up to a white-pillared portico.
The religion we were taught was sober, not colored with the fervent evangelism which was so prevalent in those days. My father, Montgomery Hamilton, had a passion for theology. There was a time when I knew more about Arianism, Socinianism, Gnosticism, and the other heresies than I knew about the history of my own country. He insisted that my sister Edith and I learn the Westminster Catechism, and many a struggle we had over that heathenish production. It was only a struggle to memorize the words — we never bothered with the meaning. My mother, Episcopalian as she was, sometimes protested against giving such strong meat to babes, but apparently one can shovel very tough particles into a child’s mind without causing indigestion. I can still remember some of the worst answers; for instance, “All mankind by Adam’s fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse and so made liable to all the ills of this life, to death and to the pains of Hell forever.” I suppose a sensitive child should have been profoundly affected by such horrible teaching, but it made not a dent on us. My father was tired of the Catechism when Margaret and Norah came along, and they escaped it.
To offset the Catechism, we learned for my mother Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, and the first chapter of St. John. And in summer we went to her church, the little Episcopal church in Mackinac Island, where we were steeped in the collects and the Litany and the Te Deum until they became a part of us. We learned to love the service better than we had ever loved the Presbyterian Church. The Bible was more familiar to us than any other book, and it is so deeply imprinted in my memory that more often than not when I hear it read in church I can keep just a little ahead of the minister.
Religion, as it was taught to us, had little authoritarianism; certainly credulousness was not encouraged. The first piece of “research” I ever undertook was when I was about twelve years old. My father set me the task of finding proof of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. His own belief was that this doctrine was a later addition to the Gospels, and he had no hesitation in setting me on an inquiry which might bring me to the same conviction. But in those days there was no pragmatism to shake a child’s belief in Christian ethics.
Our education was very uneven, with many important branches neglected. Fort Wayne had only public schools, and my mother objected to the long hours from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. My father objected to the curriculum — too much arithmetic and American history, neither a subject which interested him. So we did not go to school and we could be out of doors during the sunny hours. We had a smattering of mathematics, taught by a day governess, but I never got beyond the beginning of algebra. We learned what our parents thought important: languages, literature, history. We had formal teaching only in languages; the other subjects we had to learn ourselves by reading, and we did. Most of the hours we spent indoors were spent over books. My father taught us Latin; my mother spoke French with us when we were little and saw to it that we had French lessons later on; our German came first from the servants, who were always German, then from a Lutheran schoolteacher.
Of science we had not even a smattering, beyond what we could gather from my father’s favorite Hugh Miller. Yet in a way we were trained in habits of scientific approach. We were not allowed to make a statement which could be challenged unless we were prepared to defend it. One of my father’s favorite sayings was: “Be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you.” When he could not answer a question, he would send us to the Encyclopaedia Britannica to look it up. When I told him that my cousin Allen was studying physics in his Boston school and I wanted to study it too, he said, “It is all in the encyclopedia.” And it was, but not in a shape for a girl of fourteen.
The habit of doing one’s own searching for the knowledge one wanted was valuable, but the field that attracted me was too limited. As I reached my teens, instead of turning to the natural sciences, of which I was completely ignorant, I taught myself Greek and Italian and read the French classics. Of American literature I knew little. My father had a great impatience with what he considered the woolgathering of the New England school, and I knew nothing of Emerson, little of Hawthorne. Poe was the only American poet he respected. He liked clarity and definiteness — Macaulay and Fronde, Addison, Pope. He read us Macaulay’s Lays and Scott’s poems, and he made Edith and me learn the whole of The Lady of the Lake, reciting a few lines every evening, to “train our memory.” Later on he would give us a page of Addison which we must read over three times and must then write out in Addison’s words. He hated sentimentality, and though that term to him sometimes covered my mother’s generous enthusiasms and indignations, it was probably a wholesome factor in a household of women.
My mother, Gertrude Pond, was of a quite different temperament. She was less intellectual but more original and independent in her approach to life; indeed she was an extraordinary woman for her day and generation. Perhaps it was because she had spent much of her young womanhood in Germany and France that she was free from the Victorian prudery which was considered essential to a lady. My mother could speak of such subjects as pregnancy, childbirth, suckling, quite unconscious of the taboo in Fort Wayne. Even more, she faced sex problems with courage and originality. I remember a discussion she had with the women of my father’s family, in which she took the stand Browning takes in “The Statue and the Bust,” that the woman who is virtuous because she fears public opinion is not virtuous at all. My mother had a passionate love of freedom, of going her own way undisturbed by the demands and compulsions of family life. This spirit she carried into her own home, so far as she could. Never was there a mother less possessive. The motto she chose was that of the monks of Thelema, “ Fay ce que vouldras,” and she taught us that personal liberty was the most precious thing in life.
Another trait was equally rare: her capacity for enthusiasms and for indignations over events and causes which had no personal bearing whatever. She could blaze out, even in her old age, over tales of police brutality, of the lynching of Negroes, over child labor and cruelty to prisoners. She made us feel that whatever went wrong in our society was a personal concern for her and for us. But her indignation was not so much against the individual policeman or prison warden: it was against the whole class and especially the system which made such cruelty possible. Something she said once gives a picture of her quality and of the atmosphere in which we girls grew up: —
“There are two kinds of people: the ones who say ‘Somebody ought to do something about it, but why should it be I?’ and those who say, ‘Somebody must do something about it; then why not I’ ”
When I was ten we began to go to Mackinac Island, which became our summer home for many years — the years when impressions of the outside world are keenest and deepest. It is a beautiful island, lying in the Straits, with Lake Huron to the east and Lake Michigan to the west, horizons as wide as the ocean’s, but north and south faced with the Michigan shores and with lowlying islands. There is a legend that it rose from the waters in the days when only Indians were there. It is much higher than the land all about it, and it has imposing cliffs of limestone rock.
We came to love it passionately, almost painfully it seems to me now as I look back on the tragic eagerness with which, when we returned each year, we would scan the shore as the boat came near and break our hearts over any change in the beloved view. The changes came thick and fast in the nineties, as the place became a resort, and indeed we helped to spoil Mission Hill by building a homely cottage there. But woods and shore remained much as they had been in my grandmother’s time when she took her babies there, and our life was spent in the woods and on the water. As I look back on our education it seems incomplete and scrappy, but it gave us two precious things, a love of out-of-doors and a love of reading, and with those one is protected against any possible kind of boredom.
Miss Porter’s School in Farmington was a tradition for Hamilton girls. My father’s three sisters had been sent there; and one after another, as we of the next generation reached the age of seventeen, we were sent for two years — which also was traditional. In all, there were ten of us at Farmington, ending with my youngest sister, Norah. It is hard to make anyone who is not an old Farmington girl understand the love and loyalty we hold for Miss Porter’s School, for some of the teaching we received was the world s worst. The system was purely elective, so I was allowed to shirk my two weak subjects, mathematics and natural science.
I elected Latin, Greek, German, and Mental and Moral Philosophy. These last we studied with the aid of Noah Porter’s textbooks, but studying meant simply committing so many paragraphs to memory and reciting them to an elderly German who kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling, for he claimed that he knew both books by heart and need never look at the text. There was no discussion and no explanation. The only one in the class who rebelled against this mode of instruction was Theodate Pope (Mrs. John Riddle of Farmington). She had an idea that mental philosophy really meant something, and she would mull over Noah Porter and try to puzzle out some ideas instead of just memorizing it. We told her that was a silly waste of time. “Why do you bother?” we said. “It doesn’t mean anything. All you need do is to learn the words.” That was all we had to do in German literature also, which was taught by the same gentleman, only this time the words were in German. I spent days reciting stuff about somebody called Klopstock, but I never read anything he wrote, and certainly never wished to.
On the other hand, Latin and Greek were very well taught; so was German conversation; so were drawing and music. Even those of us who did not “take music” had the benefit of wonderful recitals by famous pianists. And in the spring term old Professor Seymour, grandfather of Charles Seymour of Yale, came to stay at Miss Porter’s and to lecture on Shakespeare and take over the classes in Greek and Latin. He was a delightful scholar, to whom the beauty and loftiness of the classics were everything — not the second aorist or the uses of the subjunctive. I read Tacitus, Horace, and Lucretius with him, and Aeschylus and Sophocles. Not Euripides, for to Mr. Seymour that was “silver Greek” only. As a special privilege I was allowed to read Dante with him too, going down to Miss Porter’s after supper, in the long spring twilight. Neither of us had ever heard Italian spoken, so we pronounced it as if it were Latin, and with the oldfashioned English pronunciation at that.
So much for Farmington’s educational system. But that was, of course, only a small part of our life there, as I suppose it is in any school, no matter how excellent. Personal relations are the important factors in adolescent life. For my cousin Agnes and me the school meant, a sudden and thrilling entrance into the outside world; it meant meeting, and passionately admiring, girls who had had an upbringing quite different from our own — an astonishing experience to our narrow little minds. The school was completely free from any kind of snobbishness; girls stood on their own feet and were liked or disliked for their own qualities only. That lifelong friendships were founded there, every old Farmington girl knows. A great encouragement to such friendships was the requirement of a two-hour walk every afternoon, for luckily we had no gymnasium. The long walks against the background of New England’s beautiful winters gave us something calisthenics could not.
Miss Porter’s personality was a pervasive influence, though I find it impossible to tell how she got it across to us. She gave us somehow the best of the New England tradition — integrity, selfcontrol, no weakness or sentimentality, love of beauty, respect for the intellectual, clear thinking, no nonsense; but she conveyed it more by the atmosphere she created than by any formal teaching.
After I came back from Farmington, Edith and I decided that we must train ourselves to earn our living, for the family finances were rapidly diminishing and our only hope of a wide and full life, of going out into the big world, lay in our own efforts. There seemed only a few careers open to us — teaching, nursing, the practice of medicine. Edith chose teaching and began to prepare herself for Bryn Mawr College by studying mathematics and botany. I chose medicine, not because I was scientifically minded, for I was deeply ignorant of science. I chose it because, as a doctor, I could go anywhere I pleased — to faroff lands or to city slums — and be sure that I could be of use anywhere. I should meet all sorts and conditions of men; I should not be tied down to a school or a college as a teacher is, or work under a superior, as a nurse must do. So I studied physics and chemistry with a high school teacher, then entered one of those third-rate little medical schools which flourished in the days before the American Medical Association reformed medical teaching. It was in Fort Wayne and I spent a year studying anatomy chiefly; then, since that year convinced my father that I was in earnest, I went on to Ann Arbor for a real course.
Those were very happy and exciting years. The Medical School of the University of Michigan was then one of the few schools with courses in physiology, biochemistry, bacteriology, and pharmacology which were taught by men with German training, and in laboratories more than in the lecture hall. The training fostered a spirit of inquiry, a habit of following a problem to its solution if possible, of accepting only what could he proved. My teachers were John J. Abel in pharmacology and W. H. Howell in physiology, — both of whom went the next year to the newly established medical school at Johns Hopkins, — F. G. Novy in bacteriology, Victor Vaughan in biochemistry, and George Dock in medicine. They were a remarkable group of men.
Lectures were given in one of two huge amphitheaters, filled with students, most of them men. We women sat in a little group of about fifteen at one side. At first I watched with excited apprehension the antics of the men, but soon they palled; and like the rest of the women students, I found I could study my notebook undisturbed by the wildest din. The lectures on theoretical subjects were attended by the homeopaths, the dentists, and the pharmacists as well as the regular medical students. The rule was that the lower seats belonged to the regulars, the others sitting higher but in a strict order with pharmacists at the top. While we waited for a lecturer it often happened that a homeopath or a dental student would be discovered in the seats of the mighty, and then he would be seized by the regulars and “passed up ” over the backs of the benches to the top, while his classmates fought to free him. Some of the lecturers had a hard time restoring order when they entered on such a scene, but Dr. Howell never. He would pause a moment, looking at the class, a small slight figure, then speak with his soft Southern accent, and at his first word the confusion would cease, the men would slip back in their seats and fumble for their pencils. It was not discipline at all; it was simply the eagerness of his students not to miss a word of what he had to give them.
The school was coeducational and had been so for some twenty years, so we women were taken for granted and there was none of the sex antagonism which I saw later in Eastern schools. A man student would step aside and let the woman pass through the door first, the women had the chairs if there were not enough to go round, but when it came to microscopes or laboratory apparatus it was first come, first served.
This was really my introduction to the world of science. I shall never forget the revelation that came to me when I saw through the microscope the cells which make up the human body, and realized that later on I should be looking at these cells changed by disease — that the actual processes of disease could be viewed by the human eye. In physiology it was the same. We were not told of the processes of digestion, of nerve reflexes, of blood circulation: we reproduced them in the laboratory. We followed Pasteur’s law in Novy’s laboratory, isolating the anthrax bacillus, cultivating it, injecting it into an animal, and recovering it again. When I reached clinical work, under Dr. Dock, it was the same method, modified to fit human patients.
Dr. Dock put me on his staff for my last year, which meant that I took histories, made the routine rounds with him as well as the formal ones, and did as much of the clinical laboratory work as I could, snatching the time for it from surgery, obstetrics, and gynecology—subjects which interested me not at all. Dr. Dock belonged to the new school of clinicians — he had been one of Sir William Osler’s assistants — who utilized the microscope and chemical analysis as well as physical examination in the diagnosis of a case. My spare time was spent chiefly over the microscope. Then, best of all, would come the discussion, summing up all the findings, from history, present condition, laboratory tests; and if one part of the picture puzzle was lacking, Dr. Dock would never fail to pounce upon it.
Ann Arbor gave me my first taste of emancipation, and I loved it. It was in the Medical School that for the first time I felt I stood on my own feet. In Fort Wayne, in Mackinac, and at Farmington, I was a Hamilton, not an individual; in Ann Arbor I was a student, respected or despised for myself alone.
It was natural that a graduate from Ann Arbor in those days should turn to the laboratory branches. I soon decided that I would go into bacteriology and pathology instead of medical practice, but Dr. Dock urged me to take a year in a hospital first, saying that my training would be too one-sided otherwise. There were few interneships open to women in those days. I had two months in the Hospital for Women and Children in Minneapolis, then nine months in the New England Hospital for Women and Children, in Roxbury, a part of Boston. The first is just a blur in my memory — a blur of fear and bewilderment and fatigue, for the resident physician and the majority of the staff went off on vacation, and I was left largely alone to cope with cases of typhoid fever (we had never seen typhoid in Ann Arbor) and with obstetrical cases, which were the most terrifying of all, since my training in that field had been very scanty. It was an utterly lonely life and I was rejoiced when the call to Boston came, to a hospital with six internes and a resident physician and a dispensary in a poor section of the city, where part of our service was passed.
This was my first experience of life in a big city: all I had known up to then was New York for brief visits, shopping and theater, and the Metropolitan Museum. Boston had much to offer and I took it all eagerly. But what interested me most was the life down in the Pleasant Street Dispensary where I worked with people of thirteen different nationalities and where each new call was a new adventure. The first evening I was there I was called to a case over a saloon some distance away. It seems absurd, but really I had never been on a city street alone at night before. The case lasted till midnight, and coming back I lost my way. I dared not ask help of any of the men who passed me, but presently a little woman came hurrying along and I stopped her. She was very kind. She led me back to my street and laughed at my fears. She was a chorus girl, she told me, and she never had any trouble. “Just walk along fast with your bag in your hand, not looking at anybody, and nobody will speak to you. Men don’t want to be snubbed; they are looking for a woman who is willing.” It was good advice and it worked. I never had one unpleasant experience, though my night, work took me into notoriously tough quarters of the city, and even into houses of prostitution.
Among my fellow internes was a Russian girl who had been a revolutionist in Russia and who used to hold me enthralled by the stories of her life. She was Rachelle Slobodinskaya, afterwards Dr. R. S. Yarros, a specialist in obstetrics and one of the early founders of the birth control and social hygiene movements. She seemed to me the most exciting person I had ever met and I marveled as she told of joining the Russian revolutionists when she was thirteen years old, fleeing to this country when she was seventeen, and working in sweatshops in New York to earn her living. At seventeen I was starting for Farmington and in all my life I had never had to think where my next meal was coming from.
My year of European study came soon after. Edith had won a European fellowship at Bryn Mawr and my Ann Arbor professors had told me that if I hoped to devote myself to bacteriology and pathology I must study in Germany. Otherwise I should never be accepted as an expert — such was the status of American scientific training in the nineties. (As a matter of fact, I found that in bacteriology Leipzig had nothing to give me that I had not already had from Dr. Novy, but neither Germans nor Americans would have believed it.)
So in the fall of 1895 Edith and I sailed on what seemed to us a great adventure. Even gaining permission to study in one of the German universities was a long and difficult enterprise, for of course women were not admitted to any of them. But if an individual professor was liberal-minded, he could give permission to attend his classes, though a degree of any kind was out of the question. Sometimes the classical faculty where Edith wished to work would be willing to accept her, but the scientific faculty would refuse me, or vice versa. We did succeed in gaining entrance to the University of Leipzig, where they told us we should be considered “invisible,” and to Munich, though there the negotiations were prolonged and elaborate.
My work in Munich was very pleasant. The atmosphere in the laboratory was quite different from that in Leipzig; it was gay and easy and friendly. Bavarians are like our Southerners in many ways. Professor Buchner was a dear. When he appeared at the door each morning with his gentle “Grüss Gott,” we all felt a surge of affection for him. He liked to have a woman working under him and gave me a great deal of attention — but he could never forget that I was a woman. I wanted to work on a problem he was studying, the part played by the white cells of the blood in combating infection, but that would have meant animal experiments. Professor Buchner told me gently that he knew such experiments would be impossible for me. So he set me to studying a thick-capsuled bacillus from India which he hoped would turn out to be a companion and aid to the cholera bacillus, perhaps neutralizing the acid in the gastric juice which inhibits the cholera bacillus. It turned out to be nothing but a big, fat nonentity.
In Leipzig there had been a fair number of foreign women students; in Munich we two and an Englishwoman, a student of archaeology, were the only ones. Six German women who applied were refused. The authorities said that the only reason women wanted to study was to prepare themselves for subversive political activity; if foreign governments wished to run that risk, all right, but the German government had too much sense. My lot in both Leipzig and Munich was easier than Edith’s because I wanted laboratory work, which nobody objected to, and lectures were of secondary importance. In Leipzig two professors permitted me to attend their lectures, but in Munich all were closed to a woman.
However, it is not for a woman who has been on the faculty at Harvard to be too derisive about German universities in the nineties. It is still true that though women work in Harvard museums and are permitted to read in Widener Library, they are always obliged to leave at six o’clock. They are assured that this rule is for their protection, against the undergraduates!
Life in Germany in those days was very pleasant, though sometimes exasperating for an American. I had to learn to accept the thinly veiled contempt of many of my teachers and fellow students because I was at once a woman and an American, therefore uneducated and incapable of real study. The Bavarians were much pleasanter than the Saxons; I hardly minded being a woman in Munich. In Frankfurt am Main, where we went for the long spring vacation, I was treated quite as an equal in Weigert’s laboratory. There I did a bit of research for Professor Edinger and formed a friendship with him and his wife.
But everywhere, not only in Saxony, one was continually reminded that one was a woman and inferior. Students would march along the sidewalk, four abreast with arms locked, and if one did not step quickly into the gutter one would be pushed there. Officers would stride by in their gorgeous uniforms, with perhaps a drab peahen of a wife trotting along carrying the parcels which no officer might carry. If one was in a crowd, rushing for the cheap scats for the opera, one must expect to be pushed and shoved by the men; indeed once when I, being light and quick, had dashed up the steps to the gallery and secured a front seat, a great blond Siegfried of a student caught me under my arms from behind, lifted me out, and took my seat.
Although we were often exasperated by these German attitudes, we were much oftener charmed by the warmth and kindliness of the people and the easy, simple way they took the enjoyable things in life. At home, if we wanted music, we must go to a concert; in Germany we could step out into the park, sit under the trees with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, and listen to lovely music. The opera there was not a social function to be attended rarely because of the cost of tickets and the lateness of the hour; it was something one could enjoy four or five times a week, for a few marks; and since it was over at ten o’clock, it did not interfere with the next day’s work. It was the easiest thing to get off into the country (what a contrast to Chicago!); only a short ride in a fourth-class coach and then fields and mountains and lakes, and, at every lovely view, a tempting beer garden with perhaps a group of students singing as Anglo-Saxon students do not sing.
Even the scientific meetings to which Professor Buchner took me were informal and pleasant as ours seldom are. Not long ago I was impressed by the contrast, by the way our passion for mechanized efficiency can ruin all Gemütlichkeit. I was asked to speak to the Medical Society of Pittsburgh and was escorted to the Mellon Institute, where, I was told, the meeting would be held in the most up-to-date auditorium. “ I must get there early,” said my host, “so that I can have a front seat, because the acoustics are bad and the air-conditioning machine (of course the room is air-conditioned) makes so much noise that one cannot hear well at the back of the room.” I was taken up to a high platform, placed in front of a microphone, and warned not to move away from it or I should not be heard. After I had spoken, not to the audience but to the machine, the chairman announced that if t here were any comments or questions he must ask the questioner to come up on the platform and speak into the microphone. Of course nobody wanted to do that. The three papers were read, there was no discussion, the meeting closed efficiently.
And I thought back to a meeting in Munich where Dr. Buchner had demonstrated some of his observations on phagocytic action. It was in a delightful Old World restaurant and we all sat around informally, some drinking beer or coffee or even having supper. In the middle of the room was a long table with microscopes. As the Professor talked we could, if we wished, step up and look at the slides he was describing. The discussion that followed was really a conversation, absolutely informal and easy.
Work in a German laboratory was novel enough to keep me amused and interested, not only in the actual study but also in the men around me. Leipzig, where I did pathology, had as chief of that department old Birch-Hirschfeld, who really gave us nothing at all. He would pass through the laboratory occasionally and we would all stand up, face around, and bow profoundly, but that was all we saw of him. The men in Leipzig worked hard, but long hours were never the rule. In the middle of the morning the Diener would come in with Frühschoppen — beer, rye bread, Swiss cheese — and at once the room would be full of gayety. One of the men could make music with a comb and the others would dance to it. I could never get used to the mixture of profound learning and childlike clowning in these men.
In Munich the atmosphere was still gayer. In June, we had at least, thirteen holidays, five Sundays and eight church feast days, which Protestants celebrated quite as much as Catholics. And yet these Germans produced more first-class scientific studies than did the hardworking Americans I knew at home. Professor Edinger commented on that fact once. He said, “You Americans are in too much of a hurry to succeed; you push yourselves too hard. Now look at me. Never have I worked longer than eight hours in a day, but I shall keep that up till I die. Your American scientists are finished at fifty. After that they produce no more original work.”
I saw Germany again in 1910 and 1912, when I visited her excellent lead smelters and whiteand red-lead works and potteries; again in 1915 when I went with Jane Addams to place before the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, von Jagow, a proposal for a neutral commission of mediation to end the war; then in 1919, again with Jane Addams, this time to make a survey of the effects of starvation under the food blockade for Herbert Hoover and the Quakers; in 1924 on my way to Russia, when life under the Republic seemed drab and povertypoor; and finally two visits to Hitler’s Germany, the first in the early months of his regime, the last during “Munich week,” when so deep and so terrible a change had come over that land of great learning and of easy gayety that I could hardly believe it was Germany.
By the autumn of 1896 our year in Europe was over and we came home. Edith had a position waiting for her. She became headmistress of the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. Because no position awaited me I went with her for a winter’s work in the Johns Hopkins Medical School, in spite of my year in Germany, nobody seemed to want my services. The demand for trained bacteriologists and pathologists did not begin till some years later, and the only thing to do was to keep on fitting myself for a career and hoping that some day an opening would come.
Those were the great days of the Johns Hopkins Medical School. I met there not only my former teachers, W. H. Howell and J. J. Abel, but William Welch, Simon Flexner, William Osier, Howard Kelly, John Finney, Franklin Mall, Lewellys Barker. Exciting as it is to work in a foreign laboratory, there is something very satisfying in returning to one’s own country and one’s own language, in every sense of that phrase. Baltimore was not gay and colorful as were Munich and Frankfurt, but the men I worked with accepted me without amusement or contempt or even wonder, and I slipped into place with a pleasant sense of belonging.
Dr. William Welch used to stop by my table now and then and exchange German experiences with me, and these were always red-letter occasions. I saw him for the last time some three months before his death in Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was deeply absorbed in a description he had just read of the anti-tuberculosis work which Soviet Russia was carrying on and which John Kingsbury and Sir Arthur Newsholme had just written up. There was not a trace of antiBolshevist prejudice and skepticism in his attitude— only warm admiration and even envy.
My regular work, which was pathological anatomy, was done under Simon Flexner. It was really pure enjoyment. He gave me two cases to work up and helped me to have them published. It was Dr. Flexner who first taught me that important part of research, the thorough and critical review of all that has been written on one’s problem and the scrupulous care one must use to give credit where credit is due.
Johns Hopkins was one of the few schools in the country which gave the student a chance actually to see the malarial organisms; patients from the deep South came there, and seamen from the tropics. I went often to the dispensary to study malarial blood, and sometimes I would drop work for an afternoon and attend Dr. Osler’s clinic, just for the pleasure of seeing how admirably he did it. He was freer from what the English call swank than almost any other great man I have known. His manner with the students was that of an equal, and he always fretted against the hospital etiquette which required a nurse to stand in the presence of a doctor. That was, of course, the absolute rule in Johns Hopkins Hospital, and it was with real trepidation that the clinic nurse would sit down when he bade her. He told me with much irritation that he had once had to pass repeatedly by a nurse who was rolling bandages, and each time he did so she rose to her feet. “Such a silly waste of time and strength.” He used to bring in out-of-the-way references in his talks with the students — items which would lead them far from their narrow medical path. Once it was “What is the best way to stop a hiccough?” And after an array of approved, scientific methods had been offered him, “Well, how about making the victim sneeze? Don’t you remember—Socrates cures Alcibiades that way in Plato’s Symposium?” Another time it was “Why do we call lead poisoning saturnism? That goes back to the days when the ancients knew only eight elements, and they believed that the eight great heavenly bodies were each composed of one of these —the sun of gold, the moon of silver, Jupiter of copper, Mars of iron, Venus of tin, Mercury of quicksilver, Saturn of lead, Vulcan of sulphur. That is why we call quicksilver mercury, and silver nitrate lunar caustic. And when we treat rubber with sulphur, we call it vulcanizing.”
Dr. Osler was adored by his assistants and all his students, so that many of them could not help trying to imitate him, his walk, his gestures, his accent, his expression. Often I would find myself watching a little crowd of semiand semi-demi Osiers. I liked it; I knew that the copying was not merely superficial, but that the young men had taken as their ideal a great leader.
That was the last year of student life for me — the delightful life at once free from responsibility and full of varied interests. Although I dipped into it again for short periods, at the University of Chicago and the Institut Pasteur in Paris, it was not the same, for it was only an interlude in my real work. My first job was offered to me that summer, to teach pathology in the Woman’s Medical School of Northwestern University in Chicago. I accepted it with thankfulness, not only because it meant employment in my own field, but because it was in Chicago. At last I could realize the dream I had had for years, of going to live in Hull-House.
Agnes had put this idea in my mind. Neither of us had heard much about social reform in our sheltered youth. Free trade and civil service reform were the only movements we heard discussed at home. My father took Godkin’s Nation; its program of reform, which meant integrity and expert knowledge in civil office, taxation for revenue only, no tariff protection for special interests, satisfied him completely. Fort Wayne had no slums, there was no unemployment; the problem of poverty was individual in each case.
During the two years in Fort Wayne, however, between Farmington and Ann Arbor, Agnes came across Richard Ely’s books. She was fired with enthusiasm for his program of Socialism, and won me over to it easily. We began then to read about the settlement movement. It so happened that in the spring before I went to Germany, Jane Addams came to Fort Wayne to speak in the Methodist Church. She was already famous, though Hull-House was not more than six years old. Norah brought the exciting news to Agnes and me, and we three went to hear her that evening. I cannot remember nay first impressions; they blend into the crowd of impressions that came in later years. I only know that it was then that Agnes and I definitely chose settlement life. Some years later we carried out our resolve; Agnes went to the Lighthouse in Philadelphia and I found myself a resident of HullHouse.
This was not so easy as it sounds. It was difficult to gain entrance to Hull-House as a resident, even in 1897, for already it had attracted many young men and women. No salaries were paid; all the residents either had incomes of their own and could give all their time, or they were working but could give evenings and Sundays. All paid their way, as Miss Addams always did, but there was never any difficulty in filling the available bedrooms. They were all filled when I went there in the spring of that year. I can remember how the place charmed me as I sat waiting for Miss Addams in the high-ceilinged, old-fashioned reception room, and how my heart beat when Miss Addams came in. She had won me over already in the church in Fort Wayne, but now, face to face, I felt even more attracted to her — to the mixture of sweetness and aloofness, of sympathetic understanding and impersonality, and the total absence of that would-be charm and false intimacy which school and college had made me dislike heartily in older women.
Mrs. Kelley passed through the room as we sat there, and Miss Addams introduced me to a vivid, colorful, rather frightening personality whom I came later to adore. But though my desire to live at Hull-House increased with every minute of that interview, my hopes died down, for Miss Addams made it clear, gently but firmly, that all the rooms for the coming fall were taken. I could not at once give up my longcherished dream of settlement work, so I went to the Commons, Graham Taylor’s settlement, a couple of miles to the north of Hull-House. It was in much the same sort of neighborhood and almost as old as Hull-House. Unluckily for me, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Taylor was at home and the resident I spoke to said I should be of little use if I could give only my evenings. That seemed to settle it, and I could do nothing but look for a place to live (I found it in the Studio Building on Ohio Street ), and resolve that, in some way, somehow, I would make my way into a settlement house. I had a conviction that professional work, teaching pathology, and carrying on research would never satisfy me. I must make for myself a life full of human interest.
So it was a matter of great rejoicing when, during that summer, Miss Addams wrote me, up in Mackinac, that there was a vacant room. I might come in September.
(To be continued)
With each twelve months of the Atlantic
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