Radium Girls Photo References

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a short comic about the “Radium Girls” of Ottawa, IL in the 1930s (not to be confused with the radium girls of Orange, NJ  in the 1920s). I was very lucky to have discovered a wealth of reference material in the form of an extensive newspaper archive of the case online. You can view the full archive here, on a website belonging to the son of the lawyer who represented the radium girls when they took their case to the Supreme Court (pictured below, second from left).

What really struck me about these newspaper articles is how incredibly flowery and at times overwrought the prose can be, as in this gem of a headline:

And this:

In case you missed the small text below the image, the caption begins, “DOOMED TO TORTURED, HORRIBLE DEATH!”

The Radium Girls’ story is a very sad one, and watching it unfold as it happens in these contemporary accounts is a little heartbreaking. Through these pictures and the womens’ testimony, you feel how desperate their situation had become. As with the photos I referenced for my Dyatlov Pass comic, these are a bit tragic, knowing the course that history took.

Something I really enjoyed about these clippings is the snapshot they provide of late 1930s fashion. Their jobs at the Radium Dial Company paid the girls relatively well for the time period, and they were able to afford nice things. In these pictures they’re all wearing fancy hats and luxurious furs. Despite the fact that many of them were quite literally dying, they all look incredibly elegant.

Sorry about the headline – 75-year-old spoiler alert!

This is only a small selection of the vast number of photos I used to create the comic. For anyone who’s interested I highly recommend checking out the newspaper archive of this case. Once completed, my comic will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Cartoon Picayune. I’ll have more info on how you can get your hands on a copy once the issue is released.