*Several* Women to Know: The Radium Girls

No one with power was willing to help these women. — Claudia Clark

(image via Wikipedia)


In factories in Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut, female factory workers sat hunched over tables, meticulously hand-painting numbers on "Radiant Dial" watch faces. Years later, many fell mysteriously ill -- victims of radiation poisoning, contracted while working with the luminous paint they used every day at their jobs.

The work first began in 1917, when instructors taught the girls to "brush their lips" with the tainted brushes, to put a fine point on the bristles without "wasting time" watering the paint down. Over the next 20 years, scholars estimate dozens of women settled out of court, in exchange for Radiant Dial's help paying their medical bills. In one case, two female plaintiffs were so diseased that they couldn't raise their arms to take the oath.

In the 1930s and 1940s, as dozens of women died from the disease, five women -- Grace Fryer, Edna Hussman, Katherine Schaub, Quinta MacDonald and Albina Larice -- sued U.S. Radium, one of the first-ever cases of occupational hazard to hit U.S. courts. The case is a landmark study occupational disease law, and a milestone that forever changed the U.S. labor movement.

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