Young women painting gadgets with radium-activated paint in a factory, circa 1922.

Between 1917 and 1929, hundreds of young women were employed applying radium-activated paint to watches, aircraft controls, clocks and compass faces in factories in Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island, N.Y. so that the instruments glowed in the dark. Little did they know that they were exposing themselves to deadly amounts of radioactivity. In May 1927, five former dial-painters sued U.S. Radium in the New Jersey State Supreme Court for $250,000 each in compensation for medical expenses and pain. The case quickly grew into a media phenomenon, and the press dubbed the five young women the “Radium Girls.”