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NHS Chief Advocate

Nonnewaug Drama Club to Bring Local History to Life with Radium Girls

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Rubie Lombardi
With at least 10 members, the cast of Radium Girls bonds over their shared love for the performing arts and a desire to bring a local story to life.

WOODBURY — This December, the Nonnewaug Drama Club will tell the two-act story of the Radium Girls, a play that takes place in Waterbury, making it a local story the drama students are excited to tell.

“It’s really cool, learning the history and incorporating it into [the theater department],” says senior Rubie Lombardi, the lead actress for Radium Girls. “I think it gives us a great opportunity to learn the history of [Connecticut].”

“I’m proud that we picked this show. I knew before we even read the script that this affected Connecticut,” says senior performer Campbell Bologna. “Not everyone in the cast knew this happened just 24 minutes from here.”

Talan Wilkas and Almi Morales practice their lines for the play. They read their script with concentration and dedication. The play will debut on campus Dec. 7-8. (Campbell Bologna)

During the First World War, there was a demand for watches painted with radium-lined paint. The paint would make the numbers glow in the dark for army soldiers. The Waterbury Watch Company hired women because of their nimble fingers. 

In order to save time, the women would lick the brushes to make bristles a fine point and be able to paint small numbers. 

Not only were the workers ingesting the paint, the toxins from this process got onto their skin, under their nails, and dripped onto their clothes.

Acute radiation syndrome, or ARS, includes symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly seizures, according to the CDC. Because the women were ingesting so much, they also experienced softened teeth, deteriorating jawbones, and spontaneous bone fractures.

The first of more than 30 women to die in the Waterbury factory was Frances Splettstocher, who died at 20 in 1925. The deaths kept coming, with the Waterbury Watch Company doing little to stop them. Only in 1941 did the company address people’s concerns by raising the women’s wages.

The oldest Radium Girl, Mae Keane, was able to live to 107 despite being subjected to the radiation. She was spared from ingesting large amounts of radium paint due to being fired when she was 18. But the job still left her without her teeth by age 30. 

She died March 1, 2014.

The student actresses and actors feel pride being able to tell the story of the Waterbury Radium Girls. Meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays for the months leading up to the play, which is set for Dec. 7-8, the dedicated cast runs lines over and over.

“The only emotion I’ve been feeling about this show is pure excitement,” says Kiya Flynn, the sophomore stage manager. “For me, the history coming with this show is a huge plus. It’s not only educational, but a fun way to learn.”

Tickets to the Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 performances are available.

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About the Contributor
Mallory Sciaraffa '24
Mallory Sciaraffa is a senior at Nonnewaug. She is in the agriculture program, and this is her first year in journalism. When she graduates she hopes to go into a forestry field or entomology. Mallory spends her free time reading comics and watching movies. She is treasurer of the Seymour Leos Club, where she loves to help her town with her friends.
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  • E

    Ed DZITKONov 14, 2023 at 6:52 am

    Are tickets on sale yet?

    • K

      Kyle BrennanNov 14, 2023 at 7:16 am

      They are. We’ve placed links at the bottom of this story.