Radium Girl.

Statue of the Radium Girl

Field review by the editors.

Ottawa, Illinois

In the 1920s hundreds of young women worked at the Luminous Process Company in Ottawa, Illinois, putting tiny strokes of glowing paint on itty-bitty wristwatch dials. Unfortunately, the glow came from radium, and the company encouraged the women to keep their brush tips sharp by licking them. Even after the women's bones began dissolving and their jaws started falling off, the company insisted that nothing was wrong. It wasn't until a group of the women -- dubbed "The Radium Girls" by the press -- successfully sued Luminous Process that the practice ended.

Radium Girl.

Fast forward to 2006. An 8th grade student in Ottawa, Madeline Piller, learned what had happened in her hometown and was amazed that no one else seemed to know about it. She lobbied her elected officials to erect a Radium Girl memorial. Local unions were asked to provide funds and gentle political pressure. The town eventually commissioned Madeline's father, sculptor William Piller, to create a life-size bronze statue of a Radium Girl, which was unveiled in late 2011.

The statue is of a young 1920s woman with paintbrushes in one hand and a tulip in the other. Her long-sleeved blouse makes it impossible to tell if she's wearing a wristwatch of doom. But the tulip bulb that she holds is limp, suggesting -- at least to us -- a canary-in-a-coal-mine situation; she's knocked the life out of it with her radioactive breath.

Statue of the Radium Girl

Address:
Clinton St., Ottawa, IL
Directions:
On the northwest corner of Clinton and W. Jefferson Sts.
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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In the region:
Humpty Dumpty in Art Park, St. Charles, IL - 48 mi.

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June 25, 2017

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