Claudia Clark Cogently Explores The Complex: Radium Girls Sample Assignment

The case study developed in this book provides a window on the industrial health movement in the United States during a 25-year period early in this century. The main subjects of the study, female wage earners who applied radium-based luminous paint to dial instruments and watches, had the misfortune of becoming among the first occupational groups to suffer radiation poisoning. Claudia Clark cogently explores the complex ways in which the recognition of radium poisoning, measures to safeguard against it, and compensation for it were tied to concerns about workplace control.

These issues, she shows, not only were hotly contested between employers and employees but also became the focus of social reformers, who at the time were increasingly demanding that government exercise its authority to regulate working conditions. Among the important participants in the debate were scientists, whose testimony presented a facade of neutrality but whose research findings frequently were influenced by their employers, their sources of funding, or both. Clark adeptly demonstrates that the story of the dialpainters is not about medical science intervening to dictate standards for industrial safety and health, but rather about the influence of politics in that process.

Radium Girls tells yet another story about how the maximization of profits is capitalism’s guiding principle at any cost; and how everybody, politicians, scientists, people in the legal and medical profession cater to this principle–except women reformers. It seems like an all too familiar tale, however.

Claudia Clark weaves an intricate pattern, making us see and understand how political, social, and scientific developments, personal motives and dependencies, chance and the historical moment come together to give proof to this simple truth. It is the story about a rather small number of young women who in the 1920s work as dialpainters, applying self-luminous paint to wrist watch dials. Unwittingly they accumulate radium in their bones causing their bodies to decay. Many of them die a slow death. By telling their story, relying among other sources on the autobiographical account of one of the victims, Clark provides the larger and very detailed picture of the trials and efforts of industrial health reform. The main line narrative is the dialpainters’ attempt to get their illnesses recognized as radium poisoning caused by working in the radium industry, getting it recognized as an occupational disease with appropriate compensation.

The various sub-narratives are manifold: the development of radium research including the history of the use of radium as medicine, a usage which is mainly promoted by those who have a financial interest in radium sales; the process of establishing radium poisoning which Clark convincingly describes as a political process not as one of medical “discovery,” as well as, the history of factory inspection with its varying political dependencies and opportunisms, the construction of legal cases to prevent the dialpainters from getting effective compensation; the personal and financial motives of the various experts not to speak out in favor of working women; the yellow press constructing the “perfect horror story” with all the necessary ingredients (the young innocent girls dying a slow but certain death, succumbing to fate); and the involvement of progressive women in various reform issues, especially the Consumers’ League, which brings people, networks and money to the case.

It acts as the main instigator of research on radium-related industrial diseases and as the most ardent supporter of the women seeking their rights. Alice Hamilton, as medical expert, industrial reformer, and socially conscious woman becomes the main witness. The book begins by tracing the discovery of radium poisoning early in the 1920s by the dialpainters at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Orange, New Jersey, and their health care providers. Several of the earliest sufferers of radium-related illnesses began working as dialpainters during World War I. When they were hired, the dialpainters were led to believe not only that working with radium materials was safe but even that it could have curative benefits.

In fact, the founder of the company, Sabin von Sochocky, had developed radium medicines before he discovered that radium could cause paint to luminesce. Ignorant of the potential health risks they faced, dialpainters routinely “lippointed” — used their mouths to draw their paintbrushes to a point — which exposed their mouths and faces to direct contact with radium and inevitably led to the ingestion of the radioactive material. In only a few years, several dialpainters began to show symptoms such as necrosis of the jaw and anemia. Workers’ doubts about the paint’s safety were aroused by these illnesses and by the eventual deaths of several women. Although these suspicions were supported by physicians who had treated several workers, the company was quick to deny that any hazards were associated with dialpainting.

In time, a handful of dialpainters, chief among them Katherine Schaub, insisted that there was something inherently dangerous about their work. Opposing these women, however, were powerful organizations, notably New Jersey’s state labor bureau, that were specifically structured to protect the interests of businesses from those of labor, and Clark argues that the dialpainters would not have prevailed without the assistance of the New Jersey Consumers’ League. The League deployed its network of social reformers and reform-minded scientists, like Doctor Alice Hamilton, to collect data needed to establish the existence of radiation poisoning.

These efforts were at first frustrated by the unwillingness of the scientists to present research that undermined the radium industry, which often was the primary funding source for their work. Moreover, radium-related businesses had their own corps of scientists, many of whom, like von Sochocky, not only had a financial stake in refuting the existence of radium poisoning, but also may have feared acknowledging the hazards to which they themselves had been exposed. Nevertheless, through the Consumers’ League’s contacts data became available that firmly established the existence of radium poisoning among the dialpainters.

The Consumers’ League achieved some success in reforming working conditions despite unresolved questions regarding the paths of exposure. Claims by some scientists that workers were poisoned through the ingestion of radium in lippointing led to the discontinuation of that practice; claims by others that exposure occurred through the inhalation of radium dust led to other safety improvements. The Consumers’ League also managed to obtain some compensation for the workers. Clark astutely argues that the handling of the compensation awards largely depended on the relationship between the radium businesses and the state.

The radium company in Connecticut enjoyed the protection of government officials who frequently acted to protect business interests. While Connecticut workers’ compensation laws provided compensation for industrial illnesses, and would probably have covered radium poisoning, the state’s pro-business sympathies meant that radium business leaders were fairly confident in their ability to avoid the kind of high-profile civil suits that had been conducted in New Jersey. Lacking a network of social reformers actively supporting their cause, several Connecticut dialpainters agreed to private settlements quietly arranged for by their employers. In New Jersey, in contrast, radium business leaders enjoyed much less influence and were subjected to greater public scrutiny than their Connecticut counterparts.

Under these circumstances the New Jersey Consumers’ League helped to orchestrate media coverage of a well-publicized lawsuit that forced radium business leaders to reach an out-of-court settlement providing several dialpainters with small annuities and continued payment of medical expenses resulting from radium poisoning. In the end, not only did the New Jersey Company have its reputation scarred, but it was also forced to pay a higher average settlement than those reached in Connecticut. It is in this discussion that Clark most clearly illustrates the greater influence of political process than of medical intervention in determining the treatment of the dialpainters.

Clark describes, with indignation, the ways in which the dialpainters’ status as industrial workers prevented them from receiving adequate support from government agencies. Particularly unhelpful was the federal government. Proactive in regulating the sale of radium for its supposed medicinal qualities, the federal government apparently preferred to steer clear of involvement in establishing work standards, essentially ceding that responsibility to the radium businesses themselves. In part, the greater solicitude for medical victims than for industrial victims reflected the attitudes of scientists acting as government advisers. Their skepticism about the research purporting to establish radium’s curative effects was at least equaled by their apprehension that such claims, if proved incorrect, would tarnish their profession’s image. No similar self-interest moved them to speak on behalf of the “radium girls.”

Under-analyzed in this otherwise insightful study are the roles of gender and class. Clark recognizes that the dialpainters, as female wage-earners in a sex-segregated occupation, lacked the kind of support from labor unions that might have been available to skilled male workers at the time. She suggests that gender substituted for class as the working-class dialpainters formed an alliance with the middle- and upper-class female social reformers active in the Consumers’ League. This account, however, assumes that there is a single understanding of “gender” that is free of class-based norms. Indeed, Clark offers no evidence to indicate that the “cross-class” alliance she describes is reciprocated or premised on a mutual understanding between the middle-class reformers and the working-class women of what “woman” actually means.

She also fails to question the gender-based assumptions implicit in the Consumers’ League lawyers’ advocacy of protective labor legislation for women. Hours restrictions and other laws often were justified on the grounds that it was in the state’s interests to protect women as mothers. Moreover, Clark does not discuss scientists’ and medical professionals’ assumption that women, particularly working-class women, suffered from weaknesses peculiar to their sex that made them more susceptible than men to occupationally related health hazards. Such an analysis might have shed additional light on scientists’ and policy makers’ treatment of the dialpainters. Despite this flaw, Clark’s study is an important contribution to the historiography of the occupational hygiene movement in the United States.

In conclusion it becomes apparent that since controlling research on industrial health became a primary corporate concern and since the trust and faith in so-called autonomous experts in government and medicine caused the failures of industrial health reform, workers not only must fight business influence on government agencies but must conceive themselves as experts who better recognize occupational dangers and “find their own medical experts and finance their own industrial disease investigations” (210).

Clark shows great knowledge and in-depth understanding of very disparate fields: physics, medicine, law, political structures, and sometimes the reader get lost in the intricate details of these disciplines. However, she provides judicious and engaging summaries, not shunning ethical issues and moral challenges. It is these deliberations which make the book a pleasure and a profit to read.


Claudia Clark. (1997) Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 289 pp. ISBN 0-8078-2331-7.

Review Of “The Railway Journey” By Wolfgang Schivelbusch

Effects of the Industrial Revolution:

Review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch. The Railway Journey. (California, 1987)

The railway revolutionized England, America and all Europe. Established opinion stresses the efficiency and progress that such travel engendered, but the more or less non-quantifiable things that were lost or damaged is something else entirely. Efficiency is easy to quantify, the way of life destroyed by such monoliths is not measurable and hence, given modernity’s obsession with measurement, easier to ignore.

Railroads were a symbol: they were a symbol of the industrial revolution, but, most important of all, it was a symbol of man’s conquest of nature. More specifically, it was a conquest of something more than nature, but the forms under which nature appears, that os time and space. It was one thing to want to conquer the world of matter, quite another to conquer the conditions under which matter appears. The conquest of matter is a long standing aim of the natural sciences, but the conquest of time and space is the domination of the inner man, the very nature of perception. This is what makes the railway unique, it is what gives rail travel a philosophical and epistemological value not lost on such writers as Leo Tolstoy.

Hence, the conquest of time and space is a qualitative distinction from science’s conquest of matter, a conquest still taking place. The nature of this shift is the thesis of this book. Railroads conquered perception, something far more intimate than man’s relationship to matter. Man should be qualified, for it is a label that hide more than it reveals. Railroads were demanded by elites, and hence, built by elites. So the old slogan “man against nature” really amounts to economic elites against nature.

The weakest link in capitalist production in the early19th century was overland travel. While nearly every other element in the productive process was quickly moving “forward,” transportation was not. Overland coach transport was considered inefficient because it depended on the upkeep of animals, namely horses, that were expensive to feed and care for. Coach travel was to become a vestigial organ in production and distribution once the railway was developed, as well as the steam engine, based on coal, that preceded it. The fact is that the author skillfully hints that the development of evolutionary biology has nothing to do with biology. It fits the development of industry far better than the purported development of natural organisms. The evolution of the machine in modern times fits the Darwinian model perfectly. It begins with fits and starts, the economic “organism” struggling to free itself from dependency on its environment. It develops piece by piece, as the development of the whole demands changes among specific parts. Parts are discarded and appear as a result of this constant dialectal pressure. The better inventions of technology edge out others, which then fall into the abyss of memory. Industrial capitalism enshrined the doctrine of the survival fo the fittest right around the time Hegel and later Darwin (both Erasmus and Charles) struggled with these concepts as a developmental reality, rather than as a static one. Movement and progress, rather than the more stationary ideas of virtue and stability dominated: it would have been a miracle if someone had not applied the movement of the industrial capitalist to the world of biology.

In England, the move from a wood based to an iron/coal based economy made this shift a possibility. The shift from wood to coal was brought about by a long process of deforestation that had taken place steadily since the high Middle Ages. When wood became scarcer and more expensive, substitutes needed to be found. The industrial revolution, in a sense, can be said to rest upon the shift from a wood-based economy to one of coal. The fact is that England’s coal supplies were plentiful, and, more importantly, centralized in a few districts, making exploitation and transportation much easier. France, on the other hand, while possessing coal, did not possess it in sufficiently centralized area (7). French coal deposits were found scattered throughout the country, hampering its exploitation. Hence, the use of coal in an iron based mechanical environment meant that England was to be the first out of the industrial starting gate and, for a long time to come, dominate the industrial production of the globe.

While it is clear that the economic elites of England demanded the development of the steam engine and the subsequent railroads, the losses engendered by this new mode of transportation are much more difficult to discern. It is easy to pinpoint the specific advantages in international trade and colonization afforded to the British empire by the development of this revolutionary technology, the losses are far less crisp. What it significant is that the alterations in perception that the railway afforded, for better or for worse, mirror nearly exactly the radical changes the “steamrolling” juggernaut of capitalism was to inflict upon the countryside, and on human life itself. That is the aim of this book.

The victory of the railroads is termed a “conquest of space” (10). This means that the very perception of man was altered, by definition. The idea of local space changed, and the old idea of local sovereignty was radically altered as well. As the conquest of matter moved society from a natural to an increasingly synthetic environment, so too, perception moved form one of immediate experience with nature to a “panoramic” view of the natural world more akin to moving pictures than actual experience. Such a shift is very easy to understate. The “panoramic” mode of seeing things is as synthetic as the rest of the economy: it is seen in fast motion, from behind a wall of glass, one sees as a spectator, one passive and relaxed, rather than engaged. The natural world becomes merely an object, rather, in an interactive environment, a subject in its own right. The very fact of traveling by rail itself caused the linear, measured route to take over from the winding paths created by the topography itself, the natural mode of travel as opposed to the symmetrical mode created by railroads (13). At the same time, inactivity was dominating, since the human person no longer had any means of controlling the nature of the travel itself. So in all respects, both in the nature of the travel itself, as well as the alteration of perception of a landscape, the human person lost all control, but this loss of control was engendered by an artificiality of landscape and travel route.

Travel no longer followed the topography of the land. This meant that it was not generation prior that had created the routes that best fit the place, but routes and forms of travel were now centralized and bureaucratized. The author writes: “Technological constructs affect natural forces in the same way social rules affect individuals” (169). What is being said here is that there is a parallel between the canalization of natural forces, the very nature of technology, and the canalization of both human beings as objects as well as subjects. Objectively, because such constructs force greater and greater regimentation, and as subjects in that humans are now herded onto a single path, a single, mapped out route based on bureaucratic and financial considerations. It is another form of alienation, where everything about transportation is controlled by distant and largely anonymous functionaries in an increasingly centralized bureaucratic apparatus. The individual is merely an object–constantly the spectator, never a subject.

The human herd is now created: a bovine mass is herded from one metropolis to another, on the basis and scale dictated to by a separate class of men: the wealthy, connected and bureaucratically minded. There is no connection with nature, man is now insulated from it. But even more, given the scale of the new railways, individuals confronting one another in the train cars were complete strangers. Nature was blocked out, as was real community (11).

The real loss was freedom. The slogan mentioned in the book is a powerful one, and one that lies as the backbone of modern capitalism: the more primitive the technology, the less coordinated the parts need be (170 ff). The more developed the machinery, the more regimentation among the parts is necessary. Darwinian biologists make similar claims for organisms. Put differently, modern technology requires the coordination of its parts, that is, labor, as well as machine parts, at a level of intensity never before seen since the building of the pyramids. Increasing self-discipline, factory discipline and both economic and political centralization are necessary parallels to the development of the steam engine, the railroads and all the technology and massive coordination such industries imply. It is not liberation from nature, but enslavement to the web, not of people, but abstract and impersonal social relations one might abbreviate as “managerial bureaucracy.” A web of centralization and regimentation is necessary to maintain the countless parts of a national, advanced, modern economy, today at a global scale. As the web gets more and more complicated, books such as the Railway Journey become more and more important.

Just to give one example: the development of the railway necessitated the reorganization of its target cities. This is because the narrow streets fo the Middle Ages could not handle the large movement of goods through the town to get to the (usually) outlying stations. Hence, cities were rebuilt, heritage was destroyed, and the narrow and curving streets of the old days were rebuilt into a symmetric pattern. Hence, the very living arrangements of the people were affected in an intimate way. To cash out the endless changes that take place at the most minute levels to make room for this technology would tax hundreds of lifetimes of archival labor. But, at a general level, even out modern intellects can pick this up. Hence, when one says that technology is “revolutionary” this is no mere slogan, but refers to the complete reorganization of life toward that of coordination, discipline and centralization necessary to make such technology work at its maximum efficiency. One of its results: the department store. The journey from the factory to the train was just replicated on a smaller scale, and dominated by middle men, that execrable sect of the retailers, who then add a “tax” of sorts on their services by acting as gatekeepers to the merchandise one cannot live without.

Hence, the final message here (at its most abstract) is that the quantifiable methods of social science, typified in industrial capitalism, while garnering huge profits, are inimical to freedom. Freedom is non-quantifiable, it is a way of life and thought that resists the obsession with measurement and symmetry that industrial capitalism demands.


The Movie Rainmaker Analysis

    The movie Rainmaker as directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is the 6th adaptation amongst the novels written by John Grisham wherein Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon), a young lawyer in Memphis is seen looking for a job. He lands one with a dubious lawyer’s office of one Bruiser Stone, who happens to be under FBI’s investigation. Bruiser gives Rudy the job on the stipulation that he would arrange for his own clients. Of the two cases that Rudy does manage to get, one pertains to a poor young leukaemia patient Donie Ray Black who is denied a legitimate claim by an insurance company. One day, Rudy and his assistant Deck Shiffler (Danny DeVito), after having discussed at length, conclude that there is no point in continuing to work in Bruiser’s shady office in view of the FBI investigation becoming quite serious against him. They took their respective cases and left to start work on their own.

     Having now become on their own, they together forced the great Benefit Insurance Company and its five lawyers to face them in court. The movie depicts the remarkable performance of Leo Drummond (Jon Voight), who is the high profile and powerful lawyer of the insurance company. Coppola has given the character of Drummond ample clout and opportunity to match the smartness of Voight’s capabilities. This role could have been conveniently over played and underwritten but the role and the performer were created to complement each other. Almost the entire film gives details of the court case which in itself becomes the most fascinating twist. It appears that most of the films that depict court room scenes provide lot of time to the crimes in detail and to the out of court inferences, finally culminating with the climax scenes in the court rooms. But the Rainmaker follows the story in the court room for almost the entire movie.

     There are sub plots too in the movie. While Rudy is ineptly chasing an ambulance he meets Kelly Riker (Claire Danes), and falls in love with her. The other sub plot relates to the second case that Rudy had managed to get while working with Bruiser. It pertains to an old woman (Teresa Wright) in whose house Rudy is a tenant. The old woman wishes to write her will again so as to exclude her family and instead include a televangelist from Texas. Although these sub plots were inter woven within the film they were of meek importance in relation to the main storyline. Such instances were not touching on the main story though they added a pleasant flavour to the film.

    The matter of Kelly being made a victim of spousal abuse can be questioned because the film made the viewer to be prejudiced in violently hating her husband just in the same way that the viewer gets influenced against the performance of the insurance company. Rudy is constantly portrayed as considering violent revenge against Kelly’s husband, which makes the movie to appear as if the hero gets pleasure in exterminating the villains. However the hatred portrayed in the movie appears to be for a righteous cause. But the excess violence does make the audience to think about the validity of adopting such themes in terms of killings and executions.

    One thing wrong with the film was the easy conflict which just faded away too fast. Although the insurance company was unfair and very cruel in refusing the claim, the victims proved to be extra sympathetic. The film did not provide for discussion on health issues and insurance procedures. It is not the intention to say that the movie was not good, but it could be more satisfying. It certainly provides for an exciting entertainment in the well made and genuine court room drama (Schwarzbaum, 1997).

Works Cited

Schwarzbaum Liza, The Rainmaker, November, 1997,
,,290339,00.html, Accessed on 3rd June 2009

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