[ RadSafe ] Woman Believed To Be Last Of Waterbury's Radium Girls Dies
S L Gawarecki
slgawarecki at gmail.com
Wed Mar 5 11:37:12 CST 2014
Woman Believed To Be Last Of Waterbury's Radium Girls Dies
By DAVID OWENS, dowens at courant.com The Hartford Courant
7:39 p.m. EST, March 3, 2014
Mae Keane did not care much for the job she had during the summer of 1924,
painting radioactive radium onto watch dials to make them glow in the dark.
The pay was 8 cents a dial and Keane, then 18, was not as fast as her
supervisor wanted her to be.
Keane and her co-workers at
Co., all young women, were told they could paint faster if they
dipped their brushes into the radium-laden paint and then sharpened the
bristles with their lips.
But the paint was bitter and Keane would not "lip-point," as the practice
"I made 62 cents one day," Keane told The Courant 10 years ago. "That's
when my boss came to me and said I better find another job."
The foreman probably saved Keane's life. She worked in the dial painting
room for eight to nine weeks, then transferred to another job at the
"The boss actually said, 'You don't like this, do you?' " recalled Keane's
niece, Patricia Cohn of
with whom Keane lived for the final 13 years of her life.
Keane, 107, died Saturday at her home in Middlebury. Keane's family
believes she was the last of the so-called radium girls from Waterbury.
Keane recalled learning of radium's deadly affects when her co-workers from
that summer began to die in 1927. Later, a friend warned her not to have a
tooth pulled because her mouth would never heal.
About 15 of the young dial painters in Waterbury died from radium poisoning
during the 1920s and '30s. Scores of women died later after suffering for
years from crumbling bones and rotted jaws.
"We were young. We didn't know anything about the paint," Keane said in
She eventually left Waterbury Clock -- now Timex based in Middlebury -- and
held office jobs until her retirement. She married a Waterbury police
officer, but never had children.
Keane lost all of her teeth in her 30s and suffered pain in her gums until
she died, Cohn said. She also survived breast and colon
but could never say whether the exposure to radium caused the cancer.
"I was one of the fortunate ones," Keane told an interviewer in 2004.
Similar ailments afflicted dial painters who worked at factories in Orange,
N.J., and Ottawa, Ill. The case of the radium girls eventually led to
federal law that placed industrial diseases under workers' compensation
Working in the dial room at Waterbury Clock was considered a good job,
especially for a woman in 1920s Waterbury, Cohn said.
"It paid well and wasn't a dirty factory," she said. "It was considered a
very good job for a woman."
The company wanted women with small hands and fine motor skills to point
the watch dials, she said.
"It was really good she stunk at the job," Cohn said.
Article and photos at
SLGawarecki at gmail.com
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