UMass Boston

Radium Girls, the True Story of a Fight for Justice, Opens April 4

03/06/2024| William Doncaster

A century ago, radium was nothing short of magic. Marie Curie was curing cancer with it. Industry jumped at commercializing its luminescence, wonderous products that “shine in the dark”. In Newark, New Jersey, the U.S. Radium Company hired young women to paint fine details to make glow-in-the-dark clocks. To do this work, they used their lips to get precise points on paintbrushes wet with radioactive paint. It seemed like a good job, on the forefront of innovation, at first. Until mysterious and deadly illness came.

Radium Girls Poster

Radium Girls, by D.W. Gregory and directed by Carrie Ann Quinn, opens April 4. It is the story of these women's 10-year fight for justice. It’s an indictment of corporate greed over worker safety, but also a legal drama as the women fought a herculean battle in courtrooms and the press.

To Quinn, though, it’s about characters that are “funny, captivating, vulnerable, and all too human.”

“The story of the Radium Girls is important for issues like workers’ rights, corporate responsibility and a litany of issues we still grapple with,” Quinn said. “That’s important, but what draws me to this play is the humanity of the characters. Mistakes are made. We see people given the choice between right and wrong, and some of those choices are disappointing. It’s lovely and ugly at the same time. Funny and sad. It’s unquestioningly human.”

The play is cinematically paced; Gregory calls it a “contemporary fable”. The scenic design marvels at the glow of radium itself – simultaneously enchanting and a curse. It centers on the journey of three real-life clock painters who sought justice. Grace Fryer, played by Anna Pumphrey, was the first to file a lawsuit against The United States Radium Corporation.

“Portraying Grace Fryer is a push and pull between a weak body and a strong mind,” said Pumphrey. “She gains this force of will, a powerful voice, but only after her body decays, and that’s a challenging and heartbreaking thing to replicate. She has to give up her dreams to discover a new purpose, fighting for justice.”

“A lot of companies still have abominable records in their treatment of factory workers around the world,” Quinn said. “In this story, a company puts profits over people in a way that is truly horrifying, and that dynamic did not end a century ago. A 2024 audience, in following the Radium Girls’ journey, will have their own complicated thoughts about health, science, medicine, business, and legal issues.”

Radium Girls opens April 4 for eight performances through April 12 in the University Hall Theatre. Tickets are now on sale – students, faculty, staff, $12; general public, $17.

Tickets and showtimes can be found at