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Mackenzie Albaugh

Eric Ratica

Computer Applications Period 4

19 October 2017

Radium Girls

The element radium was discovered in 1898 by Marie Curie. Curie said, “My beautiful

radium” to describe this substance. Radium soon became extremely popular once Curie and

scientists realized the element was able to destroy human tissue, which was useful for the fight

against cancer. Radium was also thought to get rid of the fever, constipation and other common

illnesses. Radium was used for everything, but only the rich could afford this element. Women

used it to make themselves look more beautiful, some went as far as to paint it on their teeth.

Little did all these people know that their precious radium was slowly killing them (Fergusson).

These women in the factories were looking for good work and what they found was a lifetime of

health issues and in the end finally justice that helped shape US history.

In the beginning of the 1900’s and into the 40’s hundreds of women, some as young as

fourteen, started working for the United States Radium Corporation (Fergusson). Dial painting

in factories was considered a high class job because the workers were paid three times as much

as the average factory worker (Carter). These women considered themselves lucky to work with

the element radium, not only was it good pay, but at the end of the work day the women glowed

(Hughes). Women found this attractive so some wore their date clothes to work so they would

glow on their date that same night (Fergusson). These women painted luminous watches with

radium paint during World War I (Boesch, 1). Along with watches the Radium Girls painted

clocks, compasses, and other military instruments (Carter). There were several factories that
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were opened in the United States. There was one in Newark and Orange New Jersey, one in

Waterbury Connecticut (Fontaine), and one in Ottawa Illinois (Moore). There were also

factories in China and all over Europe (Moore,8). In the book, The Radium Girls, one of the

girls said that there was dust from the paint and it would float around the room and settle on the

girls that were working. The dust, when it settled on the girls, seemed to make them glow

(Moore, 5). Though the job was glamorous and paid well, the side effects to come after are

not.

While people thought radium was the most amazing substance in the world, it was

actually killing them slowly. The way the girls painted was by taking the brush, putting it

between their lips, dipping it in paint, then painting the dial (Fontaine). This was repeated

thousands of times throughout the work day, considering that on average a radium girl could

paint 200 dials (Hersher). This process was called lip-pointing. These factories got the idea

from the women who were working in the Chinese radium dial factories (Moore,8). With

ingesting all this paint, major health issues occurred for these women. By 1927, around 50

women had died from radium paint poisoning (Hersher). One of the biggest side effects that was

seen was the decaying of the jaw. In Waterbury, Connecticut, the first to die in that factory was

a lady by the name of Frances Splettstocher. Splettstocher was in her early twenties when she

died. She had suffered from radium poisoning and had all the common symptoms, such as; sore

throat, anemia, soft teeth, decaying of the jaw, aching, and random bone fractures

(Fontaine). Grace Fryer was another Radium Girl that suffered from the poisoning. She started

to notice that her back and feet were hurting, but what also bothered her was the infection that

she couldn’t get rid of in her mouth. She had a some teeth pulled in January and had an infection

that lasted two weeks, then six months later a hole appeared where the teeth were. The hole
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would ooze pus that would smell and it did not taste well. These women suffered horribly, but

their suffering helped learn what we know now.

Many women suffered greatly, but as a nation they learned a great deal from

it. According to the US Atomic Bomb Commission, “If it hadn’t been for those dial painters

thousands of workers might well have been, and might still be, in great danger.”

(Fontaine). These women provide a very unique insight into women’s history. Several women

died a painful slow death, but their experiences helped science further its knowledge on the

nightmarish effects of radium. It is said that the Radium Girls were “essentially test subjects” to

the aftermath of radium exposure that helped the US forces when creating the Atomic Bomb

(Fontaine). Along with being test subjects, these women impacted the work regulations and

safety limitations when dealing with radium (Mae Keane, 1). These women also brought justice

to the female race, for they fought hard to get the justice they deserved. Between the years of

1926 and 1936, Waterbury Clock Company had issued over $90,000 in medical settlements

(Fontaine).

The Radium Girls of Orange, Newark, Waterbury, Ottawa, and many other factories,

should be remembered for their bravery, even though they had no idea what was coming. These

women were just looking for work, and they got way more than what they expected. They

suffered through countless infections and other illnesses. In the end the United States learned a

great deal from these loses and had bettered the environment and handling of this deadly

element. The Radium Girls is a big part of women’s history for they finally got recognized that

they were sorely mistreated and got compensation out of it. The era of the Radium Girls is piece

of history that will not be forgotten.


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Works Cited

Boesch, E., & Micheal, R. (1968). United States Radium Corporation. Washington DC Library

of Congress.

Carter, Laura Lee. "Glow in the Dark Tragedy." American History, vol. 42, no. 4, Oct. 2007, p.

32. EBSCOhost,

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live&authtype=cookie,ip,custuid&custid=infohio

Fergusson, Maggie. "The Radium Girls - Still Glowing in Their Coffins." The Spectator. The

Spectator, 08 May 2017. Web. 11 Oct. 2017.

Fontaine, Nicole. "Waterbury's Radium Girls." ConnecticutHistoryorg. ConnecticutHistory.org,

n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2017.

Hersher, Rebecca. "Mae Keane, One Of The Last 'Radium Girls,' Dies At 107." NPR. NPR, 28

Dec. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2017.

KATHRYN, HUGHES. "DRIP, DRIP, DRIP, ...Agony of the Radium Girls." Mail on Sunday,

26 June 2016, p. 34. EBSCOhost,

search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=116385924&site=eds-

live&authtype=cookie,ip,custuid&custid=infohio.

MOORE, KATE. RADIUM GIRLS: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. S.l.:

SOURCE, 2018. Print.

"U.S. Radium Corporation - East Orange, NJ - Records, Ca. 1917-1940." Rutgers University

Libraries. Rutgers University Libraries, June 2003. Web. 16 Oct. 2017.