A couple of new things related to my Radium Girls post have crossed my path this week, so I thought I’d drop them here for anyone who’s interested.

Now, even our crumbling bones
will glow forever in the black earth.

—- From “Radium Girls” by Eleanor Swanson

Reader, Robert Merkin brought the above poem to my attention. He re-posted it on his blog, and the original appears here: “Radium Girls.”  It was written by Eleanor Swanson. In the comments on Merkin’s blog, she explains that she learned of the Radium Girls while researching her book on Marie Curie:

“Curie did say she could not believe “the manner in which they worked,” and when I did further research on them, neither could I. That was the impetus for the poem.”

Daily Times, July 7, 1937

Len Grossman has posted a couple hundred newspaper clippings of the trial on his website. His father (Leonard J. Grossman) was one of the attorneys who represented some of the dial painters “all the way to the supreme court” when they sued the Chicago-based Radium Dial Company.

Ottawa, IL  July 7 [1937]      Fifteen living dead women will appear before the Illinois Industrial Commission here on July 25.  It will be the next-to-last act of what lawyer say is the biggest and most pitiful miscarriage of justice in the history of Illinois. The last act will be these women’s deaths — sure, tortured, horrible —

John Main, Staff Correspondent, The Daily Times (Chicago)

I think what I find the most sad about the newspaper coverage is that they all refer to the girls as “the living dead.”

And finally, the radium girls get a small cameo in this  xkcd comic.

Of course there are a lot more stories, articles, and other resources on the radium girls.

Somehow, this story haunts readers.  It seems as though many who stumble onto it, whether researching another topic or just in passing, feel compelled to say something more — to write a poem, compose a play, make a film, explore it in a blog post, or even take the time to scan and post the yellowed pages of 70 year-old newspapers.

What drives this need to connect with this story–these girls– is, I think, something more intimate than just the tragedy of a poisoning.  It is certainly something that resonates more deeply than one more in a series of corporate coverups. No, the response to the radium girls goes as bone-deep as the radium itself.

Dial Painters

To me it has to do with the vision of these carefree young ladies –teenagers some of them– laughingly applying this glowing substance to their faces and bodies, as though their youth alone wasn’t radiant enough.  It’s not so much the images of the dying that haunt me. It’s the images of the living — hundreds of cheerful independent women, working in a time when women didn’t have a lot of opportunities, simply turning a routine factory job into playtime.

For that bit of brightness, they died.