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July 2015

RadiumCurie’s Perpetual Sunshine

Author Affiliations
  • 1SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, Brooklyn, New York
  • 2Department of Dermatology, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, Brooklyn, New York
JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(7):801. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.52

Not to worry,” their bosses told them. “If you swallow any radium, it'll make your cheeks rosy.” The women at Radium Dial sometimes painted their teeth and faces and then turned off the lights for a laugh.1

In Orange, New Jersey, circa 1917, the US Radium Corp employed 70 women to manufacture radioluminescent watches for the military. The company coaxed physicians, dentists, and researchers to withhold their data regarding the negative sequela of radium exposure, namely, anemia, bone fractures, and “radium jaw.” When employees tried to fight back, a slander campaign involving syphilis was initiated to discredit the women’s reputations. One of the employees, Grace Fryer, after 2 years of searching, found a lawyer willing to take her case. She organized “The Radium Girls,” a coalition of 5 women testifying in the lawsuit. A settlement was reached in 1928; the affected employees each received $10 000 in reparations and lifelong health care support. The incredulous story of the Radium Girls echoed the fervor surrounding the use of radium during the 20th century.1

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