It is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to the blog as part of her Luminous Blog Tour.
Worker Exploitation at Radium Dial
By Samantha Wilcoxson
Radium Dial opened in Ottawa, Illinois in 1918 in response to the demand during World War I for luminous watches and instrument dials. The location was an old, brick school building with large rooms and big windows perfect for the fine painting required. The popularity of new glow-in-the-dark wristwatches kept the company in business after the war ended and provided many working class women with higher paying jobs than they could obtain elsewhere.
Catherine Donohue was one of the women who worked at Radium Dial, beginning in 1922. She and several of her coworkers suffered the effects of radium poisoning and fought for years to have their conditions recognized and covered by workers’ compensation legislation. Radium Dial continued operating and denying that they owed anything to the women they had slowly poisoned over their years of employment.
In 1936, Radium Dial closed their operations in the old high school and moved into a new building just a few blocks away. This new company was called Luminous Processes. It utilized much of Radium Dial’s assets and hired the same employees. The move had been a strategy to protect corporate assets from the lawsuits of former employees. When Catherine’s case was heard before the Illinois Industrial Commission, only $10,000 was available to be paid out to the several families suffering from radium poisoning.
Until 1978, Radium Dial continued operating under the name of Luminous Processes, their millions of dollars in profits protected from those employed before 1937, but that isn’t the worst of it. Radium Dial sold the old school to a meat packaging company, which experienced an exceptionally high rate of cancer in its employees and customers. When the building was demolished in 1968, the rubble was used as fill all around Ottawa, poisoning residents for decades.
At the new Luminous Processes building, employees continued to use radium without proper caution, also adding to the town’s high rates of cancer and other diseases. Sick workers were offered $100 each in severance pay to keep them from seeking legal action that they could ill-afford anyway. Luminous Processes wasn’t shut down until 1978. The company paid only $62,000 toward the millions of dollars of cleanup that is ongoing to this day by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Worker exploitation by Radium Dial is the subject of my newest novel, Luminous, which tells the story of Catherine Donohue, one of hundreds of young women who worked as dial painters in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Her struggle to have her illness recognized as radium poisoning and to have Radium Dial held responsible will stir up the emotions of any reader. The battle she fought helped to change workers’ compensation laws so that others would not suffer her fate. Although Catherine never dreamed of being a heroine, she changed the course of history.
About the Author:
Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.
Universal Amazon Link for Luminous: mybook.to/luminous
Samantha’s Blog: https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/
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I would like ot say a huge ‘thank you’ to Samantha for a fabulous article, and wish her every success with Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword, Amazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.
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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Samantha Wilcoxson