Radium Girls Heads to the SWMHS Stage

Lauren Ciudad, Staff Writer

Radium Girls, a real life tragedy in New Jersey’s history, has become Sayreville War Memorial High School’s first show back on stage. Set in New Jersey during the 1920s, and based on a true story, Radium Girls follows Grace Fryer’s tragic case. However, Grace was not the only victim. Kathryn Schaub, who was “a passionate, caring, loyal woman,” according to sophomore Marissa Rowley, the actress for the role in question, also fell victim. So did Schaub’s cousin, Irene Rudolph. 

In the mid 1920s, many young women suffered from the inhumane work conditions of company presidents like Mr. Arthur Roeder. Freshman Anthony McLaughlin, who is to play Roeder, noted “[He is] a very bad man. He knows radium is poisonous. However, money made him keep poisoning these girls.”

Radium was once used as a miracle cure. Companies began to put it in everything from makeup to nail polishes. But the focus of this piece was the use of radium in watch dials. Girls used to paint glowing watch dials for the men overseas but had no idea that it would ultimately lead to their demise. When the girls began to experience radium necrosis and other ailments, women like Grace Fryer decided to take it to court. 

Although this is SWMHS’s first in-person show since It’s A Wonderful Life in late 2019, it is certainly not everyone’s first fall production. For senior Justine Denby, it is her last. “It is definitely bittersweet that this is my last drama,” Denby says. “I think it will be a good learning experience for me, theatrically and personally, from the depth and the content covered in the show. Being able to replicate the same anger that [Grace] holds without it becoming disingenuous is probably the biggest thing I could have learned.” 

For Anthony McLaughlin, an eager freshman, this is his first SWMHS production. “It feels like I’m in the right place and I’m so excited to perform this,” he says. 

Many of the cast members are shocked by the events of the play. Radium Girls has become a learning experience for many, different from the history taught in schools. Rowley comments that “the employers cared so little about the health of these girls.”

For Denby, it is more than just the history that touched her: “Grace is such a complex character throughout the play, so I am excited to be able to work with her development to make it the best I can.”

McLaughlin adds that “A lot of people thought these girls were nuts because they were caught up in believing everything else.” 

The cast and crew are working hard to bring this often forgotten piece of history to life. To learn more or experience the story for yourself, see Radium Girls on stage at SWMHS on October 22 through 23.