Alice Lakey was destined to become an opera singer but an illness forced her to give up her singing career. She was an invalid for most of her 30s. Alice’s mother died when she was 6 and her father remarried. Her stepmother died just as Alice’s health was being restored. As a result, Alice became the caregiver of her father.
Her father’s pickiness about food led Alice to become interested in food science and the impact of food on health. Alice took her interest to her village and soon became the village president.
Alice invited Harvey Wiley, the lead person for the U.S. Department of Agriculture food production unit to speak on the problem of tainted food. Lakey and Wiley worked together on a national effort for food safety. Through Alice’s efforts, she stirred up interest in the passage of federal legislation for food protection. Part of this effort was an investigation of food production facilities.
Lakey and Wiley met with President Theodore Roosevelt to get his support for food legislation. He agreed if Lakey could generate support. Within a year, Lakey had generated one million letters. It didn’t take long after that for the Pure Food and Drug Act to be passed.
But for years after the passage of the Act, efforts were made to water it down. Lakey continued to advocate for safe food even when the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the enforcement of the Act.
A special cause of Lakey’s was the enactment of legislation to assure safe milk. Children were dying every day from contaminated milk. Lakey’s effort to create a milk commission in New York became the model for other states.
Other efforts of Lakey were the standardization of weights and a measure so that consumers would be assured that the quantity they were buying was accurate. She also became an advocate for insurance integrity. Insurance policies at the time often had loopholes that were used to escape payment.
Today we don’t think much about unsafe food or milk. We assume that 10lbs of potatoes we buy actually weighs 10lbs. We are confident that the life insurance policy will actually provide support for our family. All of this is due to the advocacy of a pioneering hero for consumer protection. Alice Lakey is not a familiar name, but her efforts touch our lives every day.
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“Real victories are those that protect human life, not those that result from its destruction or emerge from its ashes.”- King Hussein I