Crystal Eastman, a graduate of Vassar with a Masters from Columbia, and a law degree from New York University, came to Pittsburgh at the age of 26 in 1907. Part of the famous Pittsburgh Survey, she investigated industrial accidents that occurred in Allegheny County during 1906-07. Her study of 526 workplace deaths in a twelve-month span analyzed the hazards of various occupations; detailed the profound impact that deaths and injuries had on workers’ families; highlighted the inadequacy of worker protection law; and exposed the pitiful levels of compensation paid for worker death and injury. Her classic Work Accidents and the Law is one of the most important contributions to the cause of worker health and safety produced in the United States.
Following her stay in Pittsburgh, she was commissioned by the governor of New York in 1909 to investigate work accidents and recommend legislation, which led to that state’s workers’ compensation law. The courts struck down New York’s law shortly before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 women. The resulting outrage helped to propel workers compensation laws through many state legislatures including Pennsylvania’s. She campaigned against World War I and, with social worker Jane Addams, founded the Woman’s Peace Party. She was also a founding board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. With three other women she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923.
What distinguished Crystal Eastman as a safety researcher is the rigorous and detailed collection of data combined with a deep compassion for the plight of the worker and the family who faced the consequences of industrial death and injury. “If we were to regard the year’s industrial fatalities in Allegheny County as one overwhelming disaster in which the dead numbered 526, its most appalling feature would be that it fell exclusively upon workers, breadwinners. Among those killed there were no aged helpless persons, no idle merry-makers, no irresponsible children. The people who perished were of those upon whom the world leans.”