Historian Clark (Central Michigan Univ.) analyzes the early efforts of reform-minded women to obtain recognition of radium poisoning, win compensation for its victims, and prevent future harm. In the 1920s, several thousand young women in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois were exposed to radium while employed to paint luminous numbers on watch dials. When disease and death followed, the dial painters attempted to prove that radium poisoning was the cause. Without the assistance of the Consumers' League, a women's voluntary society committed to improving working conditions for women and children, their plight might well have gone unnoticed. Clark shows how various forces within society responded to this industrial health issue. Not surprisingly, the radium business resisted efforts to identify radium as a poison or to regulate its use. Scientific researchers, often associated with the radium business and hoping to establish radium as a powerful new medicine, were also at first reluctant to view it as a hazard. But under pressure from the Consumers' League, the scientific community finally recognized radium poisoning in 1925, and the league then helped the dial painters appeal to state and later federal agencies and courts for compensation. While the FDA and the FTC investigated the medical safety of radium, its industrial safety was left to the voluntary efforts of business. The league stepped in here, too, persuading the US Public Health Service in 1933 to recommend safety practices. If Clark, who worked for six years in the chemical industry, has one take-home message, it is that workplace health and safety require constant vigilance from worker and citizen groups armed with their own scientific experts. Adroitly combines social, industrial, and labor history to demonstrate the impressive power of determined, organized women.
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