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SYMHC Classics: The Radium Girls

2018-09-15 | 🔗

Today we revisit an episode from prior hosts Sarah and Deblina. Between in 1917, hundreds of women got jobs applying radium-treated paint to various products. Many experienced severe health problems. Five former workers decided to sue the U.S. Radium corporation, and faced a campaign of misinformation.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Williams. Another of the last radium girls died in twenty fifteen at the age of a hundred and four. So, let's get to it, welcome to a few missed in history class from how support dot com, yeah hello and welcome to the podcast, I'm doing a truck reporting and I'm scared out and weird. gearing up for our long labour day weekend, but by the time this episode, errors that will already have passed and related memorial should have been unveiled in a town called Ottawa Illinois. and the memorial which was unveiled Friday September. Second, is a statue of a woman holding flowers in one hand and paintbrushes than the other, and cement to symbolise the women who worked for the Ottawa based luminous Processes factory and there they painted watching clock tiles and the early tent twentieth century
and they were women who ended up getting serious radiation poisoning as a result of their jobs, and sure how much national media attention this memorial and its unveiling are going to receive. It was conceived of by a young lady named Madeline Pillar, who actually came up with this here for the memorial after doing a junior high history project. How about that now her dad is a sculptor and she did this project and kind of couldn't get this women out of her head and proposed the idea of doing a memorial to them. A name raised all this money, but we're not sure I haven't seen that many new stories about it. I just randomly kind of stumbled upon it, but the story of the women who came to be known as the radium girls actually became and media sensation in the nineteen twenty in the nineteen. Thirty is how they certainly deserve a monument, and it wasn't just an Illinois base story. I
because workers that factories in Connecticut in New Jersey were really in the same boat. In fact, it was a story coming out of New Jersey that first brought this issue. This radium poisoning issue to the public's attention in the first place and that's the story that we're gonna focus on today in the podcast and we're gonna, just sort of take a look at the historical circumstances in working nations that lead to these women getting radiation poisoning in the first place, because you're probably wonder pretty quickly how something like this could happen. Yen were also gonna, take a look at how they to be known as the radium girls and their struggle for justice that lead to some workplace reforms in the end, so kind of try to put a positive spin on what is ultimately a very sad story,
But before we can talk about the radium girls, we need to take a closer look at the element that at the heart of their story- and that is of course, radio literally the element very good pundit, Lena though we're gonna be talking radium of course, but that also gives us the chance to talk about one of our most frequently requested parka subjects, polish boring scientists and Nobel Prize Winner Marie Curie, and this is in a podcast on her- it's not a profile on her, but she is an important character in it, mostly because she discovered radio in eighteen. Ninety eight and radio activity was still pretty new at that time. It was not well understood the german physicists Wilhelm Conrad Wrench and had just discovered x rays back in eighteen, ninety five, and just a few weeks after that, discovery on Re Becquerel had identified radio activity during experiments with uranium salt so well,
Marie Curie made her discovery. All of this stuff was kind of floating around in kind of new science. Young people were really fascinated by it and Jerry was one of them. She was it especially by back or else findings, because not that much attention were given to them at the time. So she started experimenting with pitch blend, which was a which is a shiny tar like byproduct of mining, that surely lead. She and her husband, Pierre, to isolate two new chemical elements polonium and the one we are focusing on today, which is radium. It was real you active it seemed to ports with spontaneous energy and the other car about radium, was that a glow in the dark here. That certainly seem to be a selling point for it as see, but by this time people had started to real
is that even though radiation was invisible, it did have strong powers, they could cause injury. Scientists were exposed to enlarge doses and they suffered from skin burns and Harold. Ah so clearly, this element could do something, but this also clued physicians and to the possibilities that radiation held for treating cancer, something this powerful could potentially fight something that was hurting people as well as burn them are enter them yes, so it was that potential and, along with it kind of magical glowing properties that it had that gave it this way. Petition as a wonder substance. Pretty much from the Gatt GO. People thought it could cure everything from writers to diabetes, not just cancer and and higher radium. Industry grew out of that believe, some form of the war Radium was actually incorporated into a lot of brand names, whether the products actually contained radium or not was funny yeah, but a lot of people
had radium added in them, including toothpaste, hair tonic bath, salts lotions, heating, pads and mail. ouch. Gotta explain what do you know? they'll pouches. Now, because you told me about it's your job to tell us dinner it, they were condoms, so also contained radium her some day and with radium but radium. Arrayed on waste water was probably one of the most widely touted products in it was called liquid sunshine, because people thought that with some sort of magical elixir that could like extends. youth and make you healthy and brand in particular was called Rata Thor. You read about this a lot. It was a popular brand of radioactive water, and doctors would give it to patients as a tonic, really doesn't sound. It doesn't sound good to us now, but maybe it would have back, then I will know- and you- and I were talking about if it makes you kind of concerned what're we drinking or consumed Now that will sound is horrible. Ridiculous as radium waste tonic. In the future I mean Guy
yeah, a kind of don't wanna know, maybe I should but use, went beyond just personal and health products to write in nineteen o two radium was isolated into pure metal and Marie Curie was advice without as well and soon after american electrical engineer, William J Hammer created a rating treated paint, which had the trade name and dark that, when applied to things would make them glow in the dark. So this was used on scientific instruments and things like that was expensive to do, but it became really significant during World WAR Ii an especially when people realize the advantage of applying this to military instrument dagger in a dark trench, and you can actually read your watch. A reader instrument exists. play. So that's where our story about the radium girls really begins. So, between one thousand nine hundred and seventeen and one thousand nine hundred and twenty nine hundreds of young women got jobs, applying radium treated, paint to watches, to aircraft controls, clocks and compass,
in factories and states like Illinois and New Jersey, Connecticut. Even long island factories were owned by a big corporation, even though they were in different parts of the country. It was the: U S, Radium corporation and for the young women getting these jobs. It seemed like a pretty great opportunity, mostly because it paid a lot better than other factory jobs at the time more than three times as much was about eighteen dollars per week. Instead of five dollars per week, they got paid about a penny and a half per dial they painted and they would pain about two hundred fifty dollars a day, though of a pretty good job and the work didn't seem to try earth either. At least for the time the woman sat together at these long tables with rocks of dials, and they would pay the faith is sitting next to them and mix up
concoction of glue and water and radium powder into a glowing, greenish white paint and then use their little camel hair brushes to apply the paint to the dial number. So it kind of social cover artistic and away, a pretty nice job yeah as they were paying these dial numbers, though after a few stroke the brushes those camel hair brush as they were using, would lose their shape and the women couldn't paint as accurately. So Oh they're supervisors had kind of a solution for this. They told them to point the brushes with their lips and according to an article in the journal, american history, some women later quoted their bosses, assaying quote not to worry If you swallow any radium, it'll make your cheeks rosy, so grace. Friar was one seventy young women who started working out a factory like this and Orange New Jersey in the spring of nineteen. Seventeen no later The brushes she said quote, I think I pointed out with my lips about six times to every watch, dial, it didn't taste funny it didn't have
taste and I didn't know it was harmful to add two matters. The workers really had fun with this licking the brushes with the radium on it. They paint their nails in their teeth to amuse each other in surprise there boyfriends, when the lights would go out friar. Even members that after she'd blow her nose, her handkerchief would glow in the dark with this radium residue, but they list all have a good laugh about it. Go back to work, keep licking those brushes and and keep painting They didn't have any indication that it was hurting them in nineteen, twenty friar quit the FAO. three to take a better job as a bank teller, but only Two years later, she started having some major problems: her teeth and falling out, and she developed painful abscesses and our jaw. She got trade, and it showed that she had such severe bone decay. The many doctors and Denis that she went to try to figure out what was going on. They said that they'd never
anything like they ve they'd, never seen bone decayed about degree July, nineteen, twenty five one doctor finally suggested that her problems might have been caused by her former job as a doll painter, and I think the delay there is is pretty remarkable. So it was one thousand nine hundred and twenty two when she started having these symptoms, not till one thousand nine hundred and twenty five. When somebody says this looks like it's radium poisoning and it turned out that fire wasn't only former dial maker. Having issues. I guess we can just assume that it took that long for word to spread among the medical community what was going on, but at the request of the Orange City Health Department, the National Consumers League, which was an organization that fought for safe workplaces and reasonable wages and decent working hours, started an investigation on these suspicious deaths of for radium factory workers between one thousand nine hundred and twenty two and one thousand nine hundred and twenty four. So right around that time, that friar is real
Other people are a real. I think, something's going on here, yeah the cause of death. For these other fora. Radium factory workers was listed as things like: phosphorus poisoning, mouth ulcers and syphilis syphilis, but the factory workers thought that the paint ingredients did have something new jersey, Consumer League Chairman Catherine Wily consulted some experts. You run an estate spurts, you run in a statistician. She went to Harvard and consulted some people and she found out when she was talking to people at Harvard that a few years earlier physiology professor Cecil Drinker been asked to study the working conditions at U S radium and report back to the company, so somebody had already been looking into this before it. Even care. to their attention and drink or found out that pretty the entire workforce, that U S, radium was contaminated. They had strange blood conditions and several workers had advanced radium Croesus, so
were made suggestions at that point in as of June nineteen. Twenty four, I think that's when this report came out and he suggested that they make changes that would protect the workers, but Arthur Router. president of? U S radium at the time he resisted this and furthermore, he refused to give drinker permission to publish his findings, saying that and had agreed to confidentiality and that he was allowed to this episode of stuff. You missed in history glasses, brought to you by Norton three sixty with lifelong, whether your shopping online with your smartphone. Its super feels like ear. Personal information is just right there in your hand, but that's not always the case, because, as soon as you hit submit, your personal information could start when other places. In fact, whenever you shop, bank or browse online, your personal invoking get out of your control, and that can we be vulnerable to cyber criminals. More threats demand more protection. That's why Norton and life lot are now part of one company Norton. Three:
Stay with lifelike is an all in one membership for your cyber safety that gives you device security, identity theft, protection and a VP end for online privacy. No one can prevent all cybercrime and identity theft, but nor in three sixty with lifelike as your ally in today's connected world, because your information is out there sign up for Norton three sixty with lifelike today and save twenty five percent or more off your first year, go to Norton dot com, slash history, that's Norton, DOT, com, slash history for twenty five percent off thought action. Turned out later. I found out that router had been circulating a false report under drinkers name. It was basically has report, but it said, oh there's, harm here. There's no problem with the radium that's used in the paint and why in wandering her to publish the real report exactly, but to be honest, drinkers report
Wasn't the only thing out there that indicated that radium was a hazard there were. There was also scientific and medical literature, some of the dating back as or is nineteen o six that contained plenty of information about the hazards of radium, even of U S Radium own publications, and us apart, I think, is really surprising. It was distributed hospitals and doktor, offices, and it contained a section with dozens of references. This report was called medium dangers down injurious effects, and so it was out there they knew what was going on the entire time from the same company, encouraging their workers to moistened their breccia yeah and gets to be fair. We don't know that the supervisors on the floor actually knew that there were dangers, but even became pretty clear that company at the hall, TAT, thou, yellow the confer leagues. While I tried to get U S, radium to pay for the medical expenses for friar and for the other workers who are ill but the company, insisted that radium was not to blame and they went beyond
Though in launched this campaign of misinformation, they tried to tarnish the women workers reputations by that the problem was radium. It was actually that they had syphilis and in nineteen twenty five went friar started exe. Loring Radium as a cause for her illness, a call be a university doktor named Frederick Flynn, who said that he was referred to her by friends, asked too human her, and he found her health to be quote as good as my own later there, Oh friar found out that Flynn wasn't even a medical doctor. He was an industrial talks colleges on contract, with, U S radium, so it became pretty clear that almost from the Gatt go? U S, radium had been acting, shady about covering up the effects of of the elements, and we should say that, although Flynn wasn't a doctor, I mean, as you pointed out earlier, took a long time for doctors to kind of
You mean you mentioned catching on to the fact that these women had had radium either. Ninety five had, I think, to deal with a right, but I think part of it was also that they didn't want you radium had so much promised. They didn't want to admit that may be this wanderer element that they had found all had some negative effects because they were afraid it would keep people from accepting the positive effects that radium could have. Edison just give it a bad name, essentially right, so friar decide to sue you s radium and nineteen twenty five, but it took her two years to find an attorney who is willing to take her case on May eight 18th, the nineteen twenty seven though Raymond Bury, who was a young, attorney took the case on content, can see and found the lawsuit and a New Jersey court on her behalf and pretty much right, way for other women with severe medical problems joined the lawsuit. Their names were Edna Osman Catherine showed an two sisters, also Quantum Mcdonald, an albino Aris and, as the case started,
to grow into a huge media sensation, the press in the? U S and Europe soon dubbed the five women, the radium girls. So that's where the name comes from for the radium. Girls were looking for two hundred, fifty thousand dollars in compensation for medical expenses and pain for each of them. But first there was legal obstacle in new juries, these law that they had to get buyers to your statute of limitations. But the lawyer Raymond Bury argued that the statute applied from the moment the women learned about the source of their problems, not from the date they quit working for the factory since, as we discuss that took quite some time, he also said that U S radium. Campaign of misinformation was the reason the women weren't informed in the first place, and the reason why they did Take legal action within the statute of limitations, so maybe I'm radium, spake doktor sort of complicated matters here, definitely
while this was going on, though medical examiner kept looking into the situation, medical examiner from New Jersey in New York, they investigated suspicious deaths of the plant workers and in the process and to cease sister of two of the radium. Girls Donald and lorries was exists on October, sixteenth nineteen, twenty seven her was Amelia Mafia and she also worked at the plant and her bones were found to be highly radioactive. Her former dentist had Tipp them off on it. He actually had moved part of her jaw soon before she died because it had deteriorated to that point and he kind of suspected that medium poisoning might be part of the issue radiation poisoning, and so they examined the body and found he was correct. So these investigations, the exclamation and all of that and the legal maneuvering took up quite a bit of time. Obviously, in fact, it took up so much time that the first hearing didn't take place
he'll January, eleventh, nineteen, twenty eight, and by that point the women's health had really health had deteriorated. Some of them couldn't even Ray their arms to take the oath of the two sisters. We mention were bedridden, grace friar had lost all of her teeth and couldn't set up without using a back brave, definitely couldn't walk, but the severity of there, conditions really affected people in the courtroom when they did testify. When those who were able to testify people in the courtroom were said to have wept when day when they watch them. I dont think America has ever gone back to the way that it was before nine eleven of anthrax attacks. Fear was really that there would be a second wave of attacks
and then along comes the DC steeper and all of the countries. Worst fears are realised. The gunman most likely a skilled marksmen fired six times in the course of sixteen hours and then, as the DC sniper case, unfolded that terror boldly group she found out about this terror hard in this message to police the police say they have never had a crime quite like this. Quite a mystery. I do believe he was brainwash the lack of a better terms. It was scary to go to the grocery store, fill up your car with gas. It was actually brilliant, say mother would be to leave the house this was the most intense man Hunt in american law enforcement. History, listen to monster, decent Her on the eye, hard radio, app apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcast,
just an example of one of their testimonies, Edna husbands, testimony included details about her financial troubles, which were caused by the medical bills that she had, and she said, quote I cannot even keep my little house are bungalow. I no. I will not live much longer for now. I could not sleep at night for the panes, so of course everyone was ass an aid with the story, and it was everywhere even more Curie heard about it, and she was really surprised to learn how the factory workers had been handling radium on on the job further to the radium girl she said quote. I see no hope for them. My experience with radium convince me that, if a poisonous taken, if Thou poison sorry is taken internally, it is practically impossible to destroy it. So you don't just an aside Harry. Many of you may know this, but carry herself died in nineteen thirty, four of complications resulting from long term radium exposure, also but
even with with curious thing that she saw no hope for them with the radium girls visibly deteriorating and public sympathy pouring in a hearing in April, the judge granted the defence of five month adjournment and bury tried to remind the judge that the women might not last those five months not survive. join met and bury tried to remind the judge that the women might not last those five months not survive until September and He even found lawyers with cases that we're gonna be tried in less than a month who are willing to switch. With him. But U S radium, absolutely refuse said that their witnesses, or not and be ready. They weren't gonna be available until that five month window with was up. So what ended ultimately helping them move. The trial up was the power of the press, in particular what the limit of the New York World and he helped kind of speed things law the New York World was a really influential paper at the time and
had written a number of editorials about the radium girls when he wrote on May ten. Nineteen twenty eight was particularly scathing. He called the delay a quote, damnable travesty of justice and said that if ever a case called for prompt adjudication, it is the case of five crippled women who are fighting for a few miserable dollars to ease their last days on earth and those materials combined with the public outrage. They caused an effort berry and others altogether helped convince the New Jersey Court system to change the trial date too early June, nineteen, twenty eight, but just days before the trial, the there M girls ended up saddling out of court, they got ten pounds dollars, each coverage of their medical expenses and six hundred dollar annuity until death, so much less than they were Looking for in the end, we are, but at least it was something before they passed away, because some of them did start dying from their condition pretty quickly
that Mcdonald died and nineteen twenty nine at age. Thirty four fry died at age. Thirty, four in sharp died at age, thirty in nineteen, thirty, three and husband in nineteen, thirty nine at eight thirty seven one lived for quite some time. After eight Loreen, she died in eighteen, forty six at age, fifty one, but it's really story anyway. You look at it, but there is. silver lining the reason why, where covering this for Labour day, they did make strides for workers the street safety standards were enhanced and the radium girl set a precedent in case law for the right of individual workers to sue their employers for damages caused by labour abuse. And, of course it made people aware of the dangers of radium new tolerance levels were set for workers and for researchers and goes for some of the products We talked about earlier. The empty see issued a cease,
And assist order against the manufacture of the product, Rata, Thor and nineteen, thirty one that Rihanna key, let Chad, liquid sunshine, exactly the magical elixir and they found that it contains F radium to kill the people who drank it regularly and, of course, that rate girls are not forgotten, there have been poems books and plays written about them, and now there is that memorial to that. We mentioned earlier in Illinois, so so we're speaking from ass, but maybe after this Labour day week, and we will go check out photos of the UN. failing of the memorial and and hope that something like this does get a little prosper for Liberty weekend thank you so much for joining us for this Saturday classic, since this is out of
archive if you heard an email address or facebook url or something similar during the course of the show that may be obsolete now. So here is our current contact information we're at history podcast at how stuff what dot com and then we're at missed in history all social media. Our name on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram thanks again for listening, Furthermore, on this and thousands of other topics visit how works dot com I'm lorry Siegel and I'm hosting a new pod cast serious called first contact each week will have new on Stan emotional conversations about what it means to be human and how technology is changing from engineers. Coating Botz deserved the dating apps to intimate conversations with tat. Pounders will tackle the ethical issues at a future. Now that hackers just another layer of our skin listened at first hand
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