How the “ghost girls” revolutionized workers’ rights
In 1922, Mollie Maggia, an American factory worker, died tragically of a hemorrhage in her jugular vein. During that previous year her body had begun to disintegrate quickly. First were her teeth, which rotted one by one and had to be removed by her dentist.
But instead of healing, her gums became ulcerated and were filled with pus finally resulting in the loss of her jaw. When her hips broke, she could no longer walk and remained immobilized until her life ended a short time later. According to her death certificate she had died of syphilis. But today we know that this was not the cause at all — Mollie Maggia had actually died of radiation poisoning.
One after another, dozens of women began dying in the United States because of the harmful effects of radiation on the body. All of them worked in watch factories painting fluorescent numbers onto the faces of the timepieces.
At first it seemed like a good job — they were paid three times more than workers in other factories. The young women were happy to enjoy a kind of financial independence previous generations could only have dreamed of.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the numbers of the clocks were painted on with a mixture that contained radium to give them their characteristic luminosity. Female workers, young girls of 14 years old and older, were instructed to sharpen the tips of the brushes with their lips. Continue…