Death of a Radium Girl


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In 1924, Mae Keane got fired from a job painting watch dials. Failing at the job may have seriously altered her fate. The paint was full of radium.

“My father was a watch maker. He abandoned it when Einstein discovered time is relative.”


Radium?! I barely knew 'em!

Ah, those sad sorry days before tritium.


A painter of figures
that glow in the night,
you see us together,
chasing the moonlight,
my Radium Girl.

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I read an essay in a magazine (Scientific American?) years ago titled, if I recall correctly, “The Death of a Good Man”, where the author, an archeologist working in Africa, wrote about the manager of the American-chain hotel nearest to his research camp. The archeologist would take a monthly, long drive in to the hotel so he could enjoy some a glass of whiskey in clean surroundings and to catch up on world news.

The hotel’s manager, was an obese, intelligent, gregarious man who had been sent to Europe to be educated by his village. The archeologist enjoyed conversations with this manager and liked him.

They had a ritual: He’d measure the manager’s blood pressure, which was always dangerously high, and caution him to stop eating the highly processed food that the hotel served and to lose weight, otherwise he would die young. The man always replied that he needed to eat the hotel’s food to make sure it was of sufficient quality, and besides, the hotel’s quests didn’t want to be guests of a thin, severe man, but rather a fat, jolly manager. The manager was a hard worker, always under stress, and constantly taking antacids.

The essay was a eulogy to this “local boy who did good”, who sacrificed himself, in a way, to help his local economy.

Would this not be the appropriate article for the Libertarian readers among us to explain how the invisible, corrective hand of the market would have eventually caused the company to change their practices without all that intrusive interference from, shudder, excessive regulations.

After enough of the women died horrible deaths from the radium poisoning, I’m sure that the kindly and caring plant operators would have changed their procedures. I’m sure as well that the company would never have filed bankruptcy to escape the liability for the lawsuits and ongoing health problems. We don’t need government interference or worker protections, let the market work!


Nonononono, YOU can’t send up the ‘L’ signal and have them flock to Right Internet Wrongs. Only the Market can summon her defending hordes…


These comments are all so inane.

Welcome to the internet.

And yet you felt compelled to inform us all…with a comment. As we southerners like to say, “How nice”.


Kurt Vonnegut had a character named Mary Kathleen O’Looney in his book Jailbird that held the same occupation.

It is pretty depressing, but I guess there’s not much to say. It’s sad, and possibly interesting to note that one’s failures can sometimes be a blessing.

What happened to the women is awful, and I don’t really find anything to laugh at in it. But there’s not much else to say either.

As for “welcome to the internet” I’d always thought boingboing commenters to be a cut above youtube, but I guess those days are done.

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Check out e.e. cummings’ play
HIM for a contemporaneous take on the radium boom.



Man, your knickers twist easily. Now that you have denigrated all the commenters on the BB board, feel free to move on to another site more suitable to your expectations, and more appreciative of your feelings.

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