Radium Girl Commissioning Consortium
commission consortium: 2018-2019 season
participation fee: $80-$500
song: “Radium Girl”
lyricist: Shantel Sellers
voicings: SSAA divisi
accompaniment: To Be Determined
The song that I and my lyric collaborator, Shantel Sellers, are developing is based on the tragic story of the “Radium Girls”. Most of the girls worked in clock factories, and they used the radium to paint glow-in-the-dark numbers on the clocks. It was detail work, and as many painters do, they would lick their brushes every so often to keep the bristles smooth. This exposure to a highly toxic substance caused all sorts of problems. One of the worst was that the soft tissue in their mouths and gums would begin to deteriorate, sometimes to the point of losing their lips, tongues, or part of their cheeks. People associated that with two things: leprosy or syphilis. Since most of the workers were young, unmarried women, guess which one they picked? The radium company apparently would put on their death certificate “syphilis”, and even today, their families are fighting this “cause of death” because it was to cover up liability, impugning the integrity of the departed.
One of the most incredible parts to this sad story is that when the girls walked home from the factory after dark, their bodies would literally glow.
relevancy: Our intent is to give light to these women and their tragic stories through the power of song. This story is still relevant today. It’s not just women who are working under hellish conditions: children and men are, too. But women are always part of the equation when workers are exploited, and they often have fewer protections than children or men. This song shines a light on women’s rights and women’s voices, in particular, the radium girls’ voices..