Radium Girls by D. W. Gregory

Originally published April 23, 2012  Beowulf Theater, Tucson

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How many times have we moistened a small print brush by wetting it in our mouths?  Maybe not so many times as an adult, but likely often as a child.  Shortly after the turn of the 19th century, radium, a key component of a “glow in the dark” paint called Undark, was used to illuminate watches and controls on machines used in WWI.  Employees of US Radium, mostly women war-workers, were encouraged by their employer to moisten their paint brushes in their mouths to obtain the very fine point needed for the numbers and letters they were painting.  Most of these women later developed radium poisoning, suffering terrible disfigurement of the mouth and jaw and eventually dying.

US Radium hid the poisonous nature of radium from their employees, even though they were so aware of its devastating effects that management used lead shields when handling the paint.  Radium Girls is a sad and effective play about several of these women who filed a class action suit against US Radium, eventually getting a small settlement to offset medical bills, but virtually nothing was paid to them.  This proved to be one of landmark cases that eventually led to worker protection on the job.  Read more about it at http://www.damninteresting.com/undark-and-the-radium-girls/

This is an important play for young people to see who were born in the OSHA world and don’t know about the workers who gave their lives and the employers who took their lives seeking the almighty dollar.  It is one thing to knowingly take a risk in personal or work endeavors.  It’s another when your employer egregiously deceives you regarding the risk of your job. 

Beowulf did a nice job with the play.  I admire their productions, as all on stage and behind stage are volunteers.  It takes a lot of dedication and energy.