Upcoming Play Radium Girls Offers Learning Opportunities Throughout Upper School
St. Margaret’s Upper School play Radium Girls begins on Oct. 30—and its story and message has been an important one that transcends subjects and has resonated with Upper School students.
The play tells the true story of the history of radium commercialization in the United States and its unintended fallout. In the 1920s, radium was thought to be a miracle element discovered by Marie Curie, and businesses quickly found uses for radium in items like luminous watches. That is, until the women who painted those watches began to fall ill with mysterious diseases. The play tells the story of those women, offering an unflinching look at America, the commercialization of science and its unexpected consequences.
At Upper School convocation last week, the play was previewed to the Upper School student body. Afterward, the students heard from Upper School assistant principal and history teacher James Harris, who placed the play within the context of America’s burgeoning labor movement and discrimination against Italian-Americans of the period.
St. Margaret’s STEAM Fellow Jennifer Ross-Viola also spoke, exploring the inevitable question in hindsight after seeing so many negative health effects from radium: “How did we ever let this happen?” Dr. Ross-Viola noted that such exposure to unhealthy chemicals still happens, citing the marketing and sale of tobacco and e-cigarette products despite the health risks being more clear by the day.
Also presenting was St. Margaret’s parent Scott McGregor, who brought a Geiger counter and demonstrated how some products that were common in households just a few decades ago, like vintage dinnerware and luminous watches, had been glazed with radioactive material.
The Upper School play Radium Girls features 16 Upper School students portraying 37 roles between them. Performances are in the McGregor Family Theater on Wed., Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., and Sat. Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale at www.smes.org/boxoffice.