Only years later, when women started falling ill with anemia, bone decay so severe some doctors called their skeletons "moth-eaten," tooth loss (a topic of personal interest), and what was eventually diagnosed as radium necrosis, did the chemical dangers of the factory come to light. More shocking still— US Radium had known about and covered up the dangers for years, with scientists and higher-ups taking great measures to ensure their own safety. Five women sued the corporation and became overnight media sensations, tragic victims of corporate abuse, dubbed "The Radium Girls." The corporation vehemently denied radium exposure as the cause of the women's mysterious illness, smearing their character with accusations of syphilis, covering up extremely negative environmental factory reports, and purposely delaying the trials as the women grew sicker and approached death. Ultimately the Radium Girls were awarded a fairly meager sum— $10,000 each plus an annuity that few survived to collect— but their small victory was hugely significant in creating a legal precedent for workers to sue their employers over occupational diseases and in triggering the regulation of labor safety standards.
The Radium Girls pretty much have everything I look for in a song: fascinating historical women, corporate malfeasance, tooth loss, tragedy, and a pro-labor message to boot. You can bet my songwriting brain is percolating. In the meantime, I'm uncovering some incredible existing storytelling surrounding the Radium Girls, like Lavinia Greenlaw's poem The Innocence of Radium:
the innocence of radium, a kind of radiance / that could not be held by the body of a woman, / only caught between her teeth.