Friday, March 21, 2014


I forgot to note the death of Mae Keane, who was believed to be the last of the so-called "radium girls" of the 1920s who found themselves poisoned as a result of their jobs working for the Waterbury Clock Company. She lost her teeth, battled both colon and breast cancer, but somehow lived to the impressive age of 107:

By the end of the 1920s, dozens of women had died in plants in Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey. The dangers of radium were becoming more widely understood. New federal safeguards were put in place, in part under pressure from dial painters who worked together to demand compensation and better protection. The practice of “lip pointing” was stopped.

Decades later, scientists dug up bones of the dead and found they were radioactive. Books, poems and at least one play have been written and documentary films have been made about the radium girls. Many years after the Waterbury Watch Company closed, radiation was still present at the site.

“She didn’t know it was bad for her,” Mrs. Keane’s niece Patricia Cohn, who confirmed the death, said in an interview. “She said it was gritty, and she didn’t like putting it into her mouth.”

One such documentary was this one, the 1987 documentary Radium City, which focused on Ottawa, Illinois:


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