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

Inspired by a true story, Radium Girls traces the efforts of Grace Fryer, a dial painter, as she and her friends fight for her day in court. Their chief adversary is their former employer, Arthur Roeder, an idealistic man who cannot bring himself to believe that the same element that shrinks tumors could have anything to do with the terrifying rash of illnesses among his employees.

“To get the specific detailing in their work, the women would put the paint brushes in their mouths to make a pointed end,” says Heather Russell-Smith, who is directing the Young Company production. “They were ingesting a bit of radium every time they did this. They were told it was making them healthier.”

A few years later, the women started to get sick. A woman’s jawbone literally broke off when she was at her dentist. The women were falling apart, but medical experts were confounded. “When the US Radium Corporation found out it was the radium killing these women, they kept it a secret and buried the evidence.”

“I see a lot of connections to what’s happening right now — even today, women are still fighting for their voices to be heard,” says Russell-Smith. “The Radium Girls had to stand up for themselves against the USRC, who refused to acknowledge any responsibility.”

The Young Company presents D.W. Gregory’s Radium Girls on March 1 and 2. The company features students ages 13-18, who all auditioned to get into the company. “The kids are fantastic,” says Russell-Smith. “They are hard workers and talented and great to work with. They are really putting themselves out there for this show.”

Tickets for the show are available by calling 204.942.8898 or at