‘But who will darn the stockings if women are going to be bacteriologists?’

In 1995, the United States Postal Service dedicated a postage stamp in recognition of Alice Hamilton’s achievements. Here she is honored by then-Harvard School of Public Health Dean Harvey V. Fineberg and others.

May 13, 2015 — A recording of a 1963 interview with Alice Hamilton, Harvard University’s first female faculty member, has been uncovered in the archives at the Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library. Hamilton was appointed assistant professor of industrial medicine in 1919 in what ultimately became the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

She was interviewed by Jean Curran for the book Founders of the Harvard School of Public Health, which offers a history of the School’s early years. The entire recording, along with interviews with other significant faculty including Philip Drinker, Martha May Eliot, Jane Worcester, Jim Whittenberger, Harold Stuart, and Leslie Silverman, is available in the School’s archives, which are part of the Center for the History of Medicine.

In this clip, Hamilton discusses her postgraduate work in bacteriology and pathology in Germany from 1895-1897 with noted researcher Paul Ehrlich.

Clip transcript: “I went there to Frankfurt-on-the-Main. where he has just recently been installed. He had thought to go to Berlin, but being a Jew—there was anti-Semitism even then in Germany—he was told he must be baptized to get the job in Berlin, which he refused, and went to Frankfurt and opened a laboratory there and I worked there with German students who were very considerate but very curious about a woman wanting it. Their question would always be, ‘But who will darn the stockings if women are going to be bacteriologists?’ They gave me the impression that the whole sex in Germany was devoted to darning stockings. From there, I guess I came home.”

Amy Roeder