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Books, Journals, New Media
April 24, 2002

Radiation Epidemiologist: The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 2002;287(16):2149-2150. doi:10.1001/jama.287.16.2149-JBK0424-4-1

Alice Stewart, MD, MRCP, is indeed a remarkable woman, and Gayle Green's book is both a nicely documented biography and a document of Dr Stewart's position on the hazards of radiation, especially low-level exposure to radiation. Whether or not you agree with Dr Stewart's position and thesis, you have to admire her dogged persistence in overcoming adversity and dismissal.

Born Alice Mary Naish in 1906 just after the Victorian era, when few women ventured to work outside the home and fewer still pursued careers in science or medicine, she proceeded to have a lifelong career in cancer and radiation epidemiology. She was a practicing physician, wife, mother, teacher, epidemiologist, author, world traveler, consultant, and defender of people whom she felt were damaged by radiation but ignored. Her parents, both physicians, assured that she was educated on a par with her brothers and sisters. Her early interests were less in medicine, the family business (five of eight siblings also became physicians), than in science. However, she found that she was very good at solving diagnostic problems and fascinated by bedside teaching. In 1933, after completing her residency at the Royal Free Hospital, she married Ludovick Stewart and moved to Manchester. She was pregnant and out of a job and felt her career was over. After her daughter was born in 1934, Ludovick accepted the job of French master at Harrow just outside London. This move gave Stewart the opportunity to work at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Other Harrow masters' wives envied her job; little did they know that she was basically a laboratory assistant, collecting blood samples, keeping records, and feeding the monkeys.