The Forgotten Story Of The Radium Girls, Whose Deaths Saved Thousands Of Workers’ Lives

Back in the early 20th Century, women working at the United States Radium Corporation would come into contact with radium-based paint on a daily basis while painting clocks. Unfortunately, as the world later found out, the radium in the paint proved to be deadly.

Strangely enough, due to their contact with the radioactive chemical, the girls were dubbed ‘the shining girls’ because they actually did glow in the dark. Sadly, they were all dying; Amelia ‘Mollie’ Maggia died first. It was during 1917, and the 19-year-old woman began working at the Radium Luminous Materials Corp. Mollie loved her job because she felt that by painting glow in the dark paint over the watches of soldiers overseas, that she might be helping the war effort.

She also enjoyed the popularity amongst the city, due to people calling her and the other girls from the factory the ghost girls because they were constantly glowing. However, any joy she had once had slowly dissipated, her hair and teeth began falling out. Shortly after she began to experience intense aches and pains; within 2 years she died.

Other girls, like Mollie, visited the dentist to have their rotted teeth pulled from their mouths. Dentists reported that most of them would come in with their teeth practically falling out, and he would finish the removal. However, none of the women’s mouths healed afterward. On the contrary, painful ulcers arose in their place. Some women even had their jaws crumbling at the slightest touch. They all had terrible breath and their skin even seemed to be falling apart. Unfortunately, all of the women died due to violent hemorrhaging.

The strangest part is that the girls continue to glow in their graves today, over 100 years later.

Marie Curie, the scientist that discovered radium referred to it lovingly by saying, “My beautiful radium.” She had accidentally stumbled upon the discovery in 1898, while she worked in a wooden shed that worked as a person laboratory. And she wasn’t the only one in love. The entire industrial world became infatuated, but at the time, they knew little about it.

“It causes horrible sores, which are difficult to heal, while it will heal some of the most malignant,’’ the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sun noted in 1909.

Marie Curie was badly burned while using the substance, and due to prolonged exposure to the toxin, she also died in 1934.

However, even the small bits of information they knew about radium indicated that the chemical could be dangerous. Yet, despite the havoc it could reap, the industrial world pushed forward with its use, and because of that countless lives were lost. Thankfully, the cases began filing into the courtroom until a layer named Leonard Grossman took them to victory after eight appeals. Ultimately, they ended up changing the way workers right’s were looked at forever, and in turn, saved thousands of lives.

Inspired by an article written by BuzzFeed.