Radioactive Clocks And The Women Poisoned By Them

June 30, 2017
Radium Girls memorial

Mark Riechers (TTBOOK)

We take for granted how easily we can read the time in darkness. But back in the early 1900s, there was only one way to make a clock glow in the dark—painting the numbers with radium. It was delicate work, and radium dial factories hired young women to do it. All day they would press them between their lips to keep them sharp.

Of course, radium is radioactive. The young women got horribly and gruesomely sick. They began to die. The companies refused to do anything about it. So the young women fought back, in court. Writer Kate Moore tells their story in “The Radium Girls.” She told Anne Strainchamps she could not stop thinking about the girls.

Wanting to hear more about how Radiant Dial's treatment of these women affected the town itself, Anne traveled to Ottawa to hear firsthand what happened to the women and their families in the years that followed.



I very much enjoyed this story (and the show) and thought you might be interested in a wonderful play ("These Shining Lives") based on the story and book. More about this play, which I directed a couple of years ago, can be found at the Kent State University at Stark Theatre website, under past productions. Thanks for the work that all of you on your radio show do.

I heard this on NPR this weekend. I had not heard of the Radium Girls prior to that and now want to learn more about their stories. I love history but for some reason this story never came across in my history classes. I was in tears while listening to what the women went through. I plan to read the book. Thank you for sharing this.

I heard this interview on NPR while I was driving this afternoon and had to pull over to the side of the road to listen, as I was unbelievably consumed by its intensity. I had never heard of the Radium Girls and was stunned in equal parts by the morbidity of the girls horrible deaths and the cover up of the company. I ordered the book for my kindle on the spot. I understand why the author became transfixed with the pursuing the story of these women; just incredibly absorbing.

What an interesting story! I used to be a raft guide on the Upper Colorado River, and along the stretch that I ran is the small town of Radium, CO. I was always curious about the history of Radium, and had heard many speculations about the naming of the town. I know that Radium was mined in Colorado, but I wonder if the history is the same as it is for these women in Illinois.