By Michelle Graff
michelle.graff@nationaljeweler.com
New York--It seems Mae Keane really dodged a bullet when she quit a job she didn’t like as a young woman.

Hired in the early 1920s at a watch factory in Waterbury, Conn., and the last living of the “radium girls,” Keane died this year at the age of 107.

Her life and struggles recently were detailed in a report on the NPR program “All Things Considered,” which is paying tribute to some of those who died in 2014 but whose passing didn’t necessarily make headlines.

According to the report, when Keane was hired in 1924, she was taught the same technique as all the other women at the factories to paint the numbers on the wristwatch dials--between painting numerals, put the brush between the lips to bring the bristles to a sharper, finer point.

But the paint that they were using wasn’t just regular paint; it was mixed with a newly discovered material called radium, which helped the dials glow and be read in the dark.

Keane was an employee of the U.S. Radium Corp. that summer, but quit before she had the misfortune of ingesting too much radium because she didn’t like the taste on the brush.

Though they wouldn’t know it until much later, she was one of the lucky ones. Many fell ill and died of diseases caused by the radium. Eventually women from a factory in New Jersey sued the U.S. Radium Corp. for poisoning and won.

Learn more about Keane and her life by listening to the entire story on NPR.org.



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