dialpainter's disease love

dialpainter's disease

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  • "The doctors tell me I will die, but I mustn't. I have too much to live for-- a husband who loves me and two children I adore. They say nothing can save me, nothing but a miracle." Ottawa native Catherine Donohue wrote those words and more from her bed to the Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Chicago in the mid-1930s. She asked for a novena to bring her a miracle. She had to write the words for she could not speak them. Her teeth and a large portion of her jawbone were gone. Cancer was eating away at her bone marrow. The doomed young mother weighed only 65 pounds. Catherine Donohue was a charter member of the nonexistent organization, "The Society of the Living Dead," so called because members had two things in common: all worked at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois and all eventually suffered an agonizing death from radium radiation poison. More than 30 of these area co-workers (among others in dialpainting plants across the country), each of whom painted a radium-laced solution onto clock faces, watch dials and military equipment so they would glow in the dark, found that the simple habit of licking their brushes into a fine point eventually gave them terminal head and bone cancer.

    Assured that the radium-laced compound was completely safe, even digestible, the young women painted their dress buttons, fingernails, eyelids and even their teeth for fun. When they went home from work, they thrilled their families and friends with glowing clothes, fingers and hair. Dialpainters were instructed in the technique of lippointing to perform their finely detailed work. Mixing the dry, luminous paint powder with paste and thinner, the workers drew their small brush to a point with their lips before dipping it in the paint, and then meticulously filled in the numbers or other marks on clockfaces or other equipment before repeating the process.

    Thanks to r_t and c_b for alerting me to this one, which is documented in two different books, "Deadly Glow" and "Radium Girls".

    Now I have to remember what the foot X-ray machine thingie was called again, I know I have it listed somewhere.

    July 9, 2008