In 1926, radium was a miracle cure, Madame Curie an international celebrity, and luminous watches the latest rage until the girls who painted them began to fall ill with a mysterious disease.

Radium Girls

It can be hard to imagine a time when workers weren’t protected from dangers in their workplace, or when greed took the place of honesty in science and industry. It can be easy to forget how easy we have things in this day and age, at least when it comes to workplace safety and modern science.

Inspired by a true story, Radium Girls offers a wry, unflinching look at the peculiarly American obsessions with health, wealth and the commercialization of science.

The show follows the efforts of a dial painter named Grace Fryer, as she fights for her day in court following being poisoned by radium on the job. Although radium may be able to cure cancer, girls working on the floor alongside Grace are suffering from bleeding mouths, rotting jaws, and other ailments. At first the factory working girls were able to wipe the radium-soaked brushes on a cloth, but this took “too long” and ate into profits. They are now forced to clean the brushes using their mouths. “It’s not for us to ask questions,” they’re told. So, they do as they must to keep the line moving.

Her chief adversary is her former employer, Arthur Roeder. Although he has the best of intentions, he can’t believe that the radium used to shrink tumors is also causing a terrifying and deadly rash of illnesses across his line of working girls. He even goes so far as to pay off medical doctors and dentists to agree with his point of view! “The paint is a harmless compound of radium and zinc” is his battlecry. One doctor even suggests that brushing teeth and eating more fresh fruits will take care of the issues!

As more women get very ill and some die, Grace takes the matter to court. Luckily, she quit the factory to work at a bank, but is not able to escape the horrible side effects before she exits. Her only recourse is to win in court – without the win, she won’t be able to pay off her medical debt. As the case goes on, however, Grace finds herself battling not just with the U.S. Radium Corporation but also with her own family and friends, who fear that her campaign for justice will backfire. “They will try to buy your silence. Are you for sale?”

As the company puts pressure on Grace and the other radium girls to settle, they take their battle to the public eye through nationwide news coverage. The articles are to garner public sympathy and outcry as the girls get sicker and sicker waiting for their time in court.

Will time run out for Grace and the others before justice is served? Will the company keep trying to delay the court date at all costs? You will have to see Radium Girls to find out!

Christian Youth Theater boasts more than 450 actors annually, between the ages of 4  and 18. In addition to more than 50 workshops and eleven summer camp offerings, CYT produces seven professional-level productions during each season. 

You can purchase tickets to the show here.