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Marion Barrett

A closer look at our ‘Women in Wartime’ conference

By News

We’re delighted to announce that tickets are now on sale for our ‘Women in Wartime’ conference.  2 days of talks, 6 panels, 24 speakers, a keynote address and a musical perfomance.  You can find out about all the talks and buy your ticket online here:

We’re going to share a few more details about each of the speakers and the talks they will deliver over the next few posts.


Talk Title: ‘Great Grandma Barrett Was a Shining Woman’: Reflections on the Radium Girls and Industrial Disease

During World War I and World War II, thousands of young women on the east coast of the United States  participated in the war effort by working as radium dial painters, including my great grandmother, Marion Murdoch O’Hara Barrett.

Dial Painters worked with radium and used the lip-point technique to create glowing watch dials, buttons for soldiers, and navigational equipment. At night, encouraged by industrial propaganda that held radium as beneficial to health, Marion brought home in sellable radioactive paint chips to give to her children as glowing toys.

This industry had horrifying impacts on their health and that of their families.  Marion died at the age of 76, suffering from dementia and aluminum deposits on the brain- the result of her time in industry. Many of her children died fairly young, succumbing to cancer, autoimmune disease, and cardiac illnesses.

This conference paper will explore Marion’s work within the dial painting industry and its impact on her health and her children’s well-being within the greater context of industrial disease.


Biography of speaker:

Erin Becker is the Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator at the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville, NY.

Her research interests focus on the convergence of women, labor, and the environment through a global extractive maritime economy. Her work in museums grapples with investing local peoples in their resources (archaeological, historical, and environmental) as stakeholders through outreach, education, and the development of public programming.

She has written for Gotham Center for New York City History, New York History Blog, Read More Science, and Global Maritime History. She is the co-host of the Scholars Beyond the Tower: Conversations from our Fields podcast. She can be found at @ErinE_Becker on Twitter.

Above: photograph of Great Grandma Barrett

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