Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Shining Light on a Dark Past: BOLDR Venture Un.Dark

A few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly contacted regarding a unique idea that I am happy to share with you today. It is exciting to share the announcement of the Venture Un.Dark, a watch from BOLDR that honors the dial painters who suffered from radium poisoning to create glow-in-the-dark watches in the first half of the 20th century.

As my readers know, Catherine Wolfe Donohue was one of those women, and I am happy to see her honored and remembered by this lovely timepiece. Learn more in BOLDR's press release below.


Shining Light On A Dark Past - BOLDR Supply Co. Pays Tribute To The Radium Girls With The Venture Un.Dark

BOLDR Supply Co. has released a special edition titanium Venture watch that commemorates the Radium Girls, who were young teenage factory workers handling highly dangerous radium-laced luminescent paint, completely unaware of its harmful effects. Their story is a solemn reminder of the watch industry’s dark past which claimed many lives before global health & safety standards were regulated. The Venture Un.dark is available now on on a limited release of 99 pieces.

SINGAPORE: BOLDR Supply Company is paying tribute to the sacrifices of the Radium Girls with a special edition titanium Venture named Un.dark, after the luminescent paint that was popularly used in the years during and following World War 1. The Radium Girls were a collective of young teenage factory workers who would handle this paint every day without protective equipment, exposing them to its harmful side effects and ultimately causing severe health issues and painful deaths to many. The watch is dedicated to the memory of the fallen girls, featuring an outline of a dial painter on its face and custom artwork on its caseback.

Following its discovery in the early 1900s, radium-laced paint eventually found its way to the US where it was painted on the dials of watches, clocks and airplane dashboards during the first World War. Young teenage girls were hired by industry giants such as the United States Radium Corporation (USRC) in New Jersey, to handle the patented Undark paint. Assured that it was perfectly safe to use, the girls handled the paint without any protective gear and even enjoyed painting their teeth and faces to make them glow in order to attract the attention of local boys. Each time their paint brushes were dipped between their lips to make a fine point for painting, they ingested small amounts of radium which seeped into their bones. Before long, they literally began to glow in the dark, earning them the nickname 'Ghost Girls'. 

At the time, radium poisoning was not a secret - male workers in chemical plants wore lead aprons and face shields when handling radium. Yet somehow, radium-laced products such as cosmetics and toothpaste were being advertised in a positive way. It was later discovered that this misleading propaganda was secretly funded by the industry players themselves, but prior to that virtually no member of the public knew they were slowly being poisoned.

Slowly but surely, damaging effects of radium begin to show - in 1922, one of the USRC workers named Mollie Maggia suffered abscesses in her mouth, disintegrating teeth, and a jawbone that dislodged into her doctor’s hands upon touching it. Horror stories such as these began cropping up and affecting teenage girls all over the country, but they were largely ignored, misdiagnosed, and shamed for unfounded accusations while corporations rushed to cover up their injuries and deaths.

A living Radium Girl descendent, Patricia Bauernhuber, recalls her family’s experience: “My grandparents, parents, and I lived in East Orange, NJ during the first four years of my life, a mile from the site of the infamous USRC watch manufacturing building. Our great-great aunt died a prolonged and painful death from years of working with the substance. Due to the path of the brook that abutted the factory where they dumped their paint waste, 70 years later the area would be a US Super Site for radium cleanup in Glen Ridge and Montclair. It would take many more years of disrupting neighborhoods and destroying property values to clean up those areas. The tragic saga of radium use in Essex County, NJ, and the young women who had to fight for recognition and treatment should be better known,” said Patricia, who expressed her gratitude for BOLDR’s commemoration to the sacrifice of countless Radium Girls.

With cases increasing over years, it took the courage and determination of a few heroic workers such as Grace Fryer in 1927 and Catherine Wolfe Donahue in 1938 to fight against guilty corporations and force governments to tighten work safety regulations. Writer Samantha Wilcoxson chronicled the arduous ordeal in her 2020 novel in hopes of raising awareness of these unsung heroes.

In Samantha's own words, “When I first learned about the fate of dial painters in studios using radium-infused paint, I immediately knew that I needed to write about their story. My novel, Luminous:The Story of a Radium Girl, is my tribute to these women, especially Catherine Wolfe Donohue whose faith and fortitude was an inspiration to me. The injustice and suffering that Catherine and her coworkers endured paved the way for many of the protections that workers have today. I am thrilled to see that BOLDR watchmakers share my passion to recognize the sacrifices of the Radium Girls. The Venture Un.dark is a lovely memorial to the hundreds of women who were exploited in order to create glow-in-the-dark watches. The ‘ghost girl’ on the watch face is a poignant reminder of the work these women did, and I especially admire the thoughtful engraving on the back. This watch is a wonderful way to honor women who are too often a forgotten part of our history."

The work safety laws that resulted from the sacrifice of Radium Girls eventually saved the lives of countless workers around the world, yet this story is not well-known even to those in the watchmaking industry. The Venture Un.dark was created to keep their legacy alive, and to thank the Radium Girls for their priceless contribution to society.

Visit to pre-order the Venture Un.dark today.


BOLDR Supply Company designs watches and gear to be worn, used and abused every day. When you wear a BOLDR product, you’re becoming part of a global #beBOLDR movement - a shared passion for the adventurous side of life, with a watch that’ll never leave your side.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The History behind Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl

 As a historical fiction author, one of the most common questions I am asked is 'How much of that story is true?' In all of my novels, I strive for historical accuracy as much as possible and try to fill in the gaps in a way that fits with historical figures' personalities and circumstances. Since Luminous takes place in a much more recent era than my previous works, I was blessed with source material from newspapers, personal letters, and even a visit to Ottawa, Illinois, where Catherine Wolfe Donohue and her friends lived.

If you have read Luminous, you know that each chapter begins with a historical quote from one of the people included in the novel or from a scientist or journalist of that era. I did this to constantly remind readers that this story is true. When you feel yourself getting angry at the actions (or lack thereof) of Radium Dial or you can't quite believe the suffering the women endured, remember that it is not a figment of my imagination.

One of the first and most priceless sources of material I discovered when researching Catherine's story were the newspaper articles stored by Len Grossman, son of Catherine's attorney, Leonard Grossman. Scrolling through the headlines feels surreal, and one can imagine the public's reaction at the time - those who felt the same anger and sympathy that we do and those who supported the radium companies and assumed the women were lying to make a quick buck. I appreciated that these articles offered images of the women. I had real faces to attach to the familiar names. I discovered that Catherine wore a polka-dot dress and insisted on having one on my book cover.

My next step was visiting Ottawa, Illinois, where Catherine lived her short life and worked at Radium Dial. The old schoolhouse that was home to Radium Dial was long gone - the material from its destruction having been spread around town and used for land fill, exacerbating the radiation problem that continues to plague the area. However, I was able to attend church at St Columba, where Catherine had been baptized and married. This was an important place to include in her story and it made me feel closer to her to be there. I was also able to climb Starved Rock and drive by the house she inherited from her aunt and uncle.

Today, Ottawa has a memorial to the dial painters who suffered and died due to the negligence of the radium industry. It isn't centrally located like the Lincoln-Douglas statue but sits on a quiet corner a bit away from the busier part of the historic downtown district. At first that made me a bit sad, but later I found it fitting. Catherine and her friends never wanted to be the center of attention. They were forced into it.

Not far away from Ottawa, the LaSalle County Historical Museum holds the Pearl Payne collection. Again, readers of Luminous will remember that Pearl was one of Catherine's closest friends who outlived her by several decades though she also suffered effects of radium poisoning. This collection gave me the most intimate look into the women's lives as I read their personal letters, quotes from which I included in dialog of my novel. I'll never forget holding a letter written by Catherine where she begged Pearl to visit because she was 'so lonesome and blue.' Pearl also kept a collection of newspaper clippings and record of the testing she underwent for study of the radium in her body. She kept telegrams from Leonard Grossman and a memorial card from Catherine's funeral.

Finally, I was able to locate - after much wandering and searching - Catherine Donohue's simple grave. It is located just outside town, near that of her husband, Tom, who never remarried. The historian part of my brain had expected something more monumental, but, like the downtown monument, I should not have been surprised that Catherine's memorial stone was simple and unobtrusive.

I wish I could have written Catherine a longer story. I wish she could have been healed and won a huge monetary settlement, but the truth of her story did not allow me to do so. That's the problem with history. It cannot be changed, but, hopefully, we learn from its lessons.

Haven't read Luminous yet? Read the first chapter for free HERE or purchase it on Amazon in paperback on on Kindle.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Fall of Kings

 I am happy to welcome a new guest to my blog today. Author Stuart Rudge's Legend of the Cid series transports readers into 11th century Spain, a world of knights, battles, and precarious crowns. To celebrate the publication of his third book, The Fall of Kings, Stuart is here to discuss the history behind his story.

Welcome, Stuart! 

~ Samantha


The History behind The Fall of Kings

Guest Post by Stuart Rudge

The years 1071-1072 proved to be a pivotal period in the story of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the man known as El Cid, and also of medieval Spanish history. For in this year, all three sons of Fernando the Great were either deposed from their thrones and sent in to exile, or killed, and four of the five siblings had been involved in a dynastic feud. By the end of the year, only one man remained to take all three thrones, and ruled over a kingdom as vast as his father had done.

Upon Fernando’s death in 1065, his kingdom had been divided between his sons; Sancho became King of Castile, Alfonso received Leon, and Garcia inherited Galicia. His daughters Urraca and Elvira gained control of the Leonese cities of Zamora and Toro, respectively. Relations between the brothers had been tense ever since the death of their mother Sancha in 1067. Yet despite the tension, the only moments of note came from Alfonso wresting control of the parias tribute of Badajoz from Garcia in 1068, and a few months later at the battle of Lantadilla; although it was touted as a Castilian victory over Leon, it is only recorded as a minor skirmish between the two kingdoms.

The division of Fernando’s kingdom: Copyright Stuart Rudge

Tensions eventually came to a head in the year 1071, with the conquest of Galicia. There seems to be confusion over the events of the conquest itself, or simply they do not add up. One source claims that Alfonso and Sancho met in private some months prior, and conspired to conquer Galicia and divide the realm equally; a surviving document names Alfonso as King of Leon and Galicia, and Sancho as King of Castile and Galicia, at the same time.

Another source suggests Sancho rode across the kingdom of Leon, using the excuse of a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, then fell upon Garcia and forced him to submit. And a final source claims Sancho sent Rodrigo to pluck Garcia from his crumbling kingdom and escort him to Burgos as a prisoner. In any instance, it would prove difficult for Sancho to rule Galicia, given that Alfonso’s domain lay directly between the two. It is likely that it was Alfonso who claimed Galicia, as charters from the king of Leon from the time have Galician bishops as signatories, and Garcia was eventually sent in to exile in Seville. This left Alfonso and Sancho to fight for the ultimate prize.

The decisive clash came at Golpejera, some thirty kilometres west of the Pisuerga River, which was the natural barrier between Leon and Castile. The date of the battle is accepted as being between 2nd and 5th January, 1072, at a time where winter would have settled in the plains of northern Spain and made for hellish conditions for a battle. This suggests Sancho wanted to catch Alfonso without the bulk of his forces from Asturias and Galicia, as these would have taken some weeks to assemble. Legend places Rodrigo at the heart of the battle as Sancho’s alferez, or standard bearer, and though it is believed Alfonso carried the day, the forces of Castile rallied during the night and struck back; Rodrigo is said to have personally captured Alfonso and delivered him in chains to his brother. How much of this is true and simply included for epic narrative is debated. Regardless, Sancho bested Alfonso and was crowned king of Leon, Castile and Galicia on 12th January, and Alfonso was sent to the dungeons of Burgos.

Yet Sancho’s reign was doomed from the start. The Leonese did not support his tenure as king; indeed Bishop Pelayo of Leon, the most senior member of the clergy, refused to place the crown upon Sancho’s head. The sheer size of the realm proved another sticking point. For example, to travel from Leon to Portugal, then Galicia and Asturias, and finally to Burgos and back to Leon would take several months on the road for a mobile court, and for a new monarch like Sancho to gain the support of all of his subjects, it would take a considerable deal of time and effort. And to garner more support, it was necessary for Sancho to appease his sisters, Urraca and Elvira. The infantas were ever present in confirming Alfonso’s charters, but had much less of a role in Sancho’s court. The new king seemed to strike a bargain for their backing by sending Alfonso in to exile to Toledo instead of keeping him imprisoned. But ultimately, Sancho’s short tenure as king would soon come to a bloody end.

Urraca, along with Pedro Ansúrez of the Beni Gomez clan, who was a close friend and advisor to Alfonso, openly rebelled against Sancho’s rule and chose Urraca’s domain of Zamora as their bastion. Sancho was killed before the walls of the fortress on the Duero in early October, although there is debate about the nature of the conflict that took place. The

Najerense Chronicle would tell us that Sancho besieged the rebels, and that a man named Velliti Ariulfi, posing as a deserter and offering to show Sancho the weak spot in the defences, murdered him. Rodrigo allegedly chased him back to the city and, in a grief stricken rage, faced off against fifteen enemy knights, killed several and put the rest to flight.

The Death of Sancho II before the walls of Zamora
Image source:

The final events of the year are some of the most iconic in the story of the Cid. Upon hearing of Sancho’s demise, Alfonso returned from exile in Toledo and, after securing the crowns of Leon and Galicia, proceeded to Burgos to confirm the Castilian surrender. The epic scene in the Charlton Heston movie of El Cid, where Rodrigo forces Alfonso’s hands on to a bible to swear the king had no part in Sancho’s death, is purely fictional, or at least exaggerated. It is intended to fall in line with the legend that Rodrigo forced Alfonso to swear before the nobility of Castile that he was innocent of conspiracy and murder before they would accept him as their king, but there is no historical record of it. If this actually happened, we would expect Rodrigo to be punished, or at least be made an example of. Instead, we see his name as a signatory on some of the first charters Alfonso issues upon his confirmation as the one true king of Leon-Castile, showing Alfonso openly admitted him it to his court, albeit in a reduced capacity. From a historical point of view, it is not hard to imagine there would have been some sort of resistance to Alfonso’s coming in a muted capacity; most likely some nobles like Rodrigo would have wanted assurances about the new king’s intentions, but would not have gone so far as to slam royal hands upon a bible, in the hopes of securing some sort of position in the new regime.

El Cid makes Alfonso swear his innocence in the church of San Gadea
Image source:

We may never truly know the circumstances of how Alfonso won the crown, but it left him as the sole ruler of a large kingdom, with members of all three districts in his court. Yet Rodrigo’s time in Alfonso would bring mixed fortunes. Whilst Alfonso recognised the champion of Castile’s service to his brother, Rodrigo did not enjoy the level of prestige he experienced in Sancho’s court. Furthermore, conspiracy and jealously would plague his service in the years to come.

The Fall of Kings is available now on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Castile. 1071AD

Three kings. One crown.

After Sancho II of Castile dispatches his champion Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar to capture his brother, King Garcia of Galicia, he hopes it is a defining moment in his quest to reunite the lands of his father under one banner. But Alfonso VI of Leon is one step ahead, and has already added the lands of Galicia to his domain. When the only alternative is war, Sancho turns to Rodrigo to lead the armies of Castile, and he must use all of his tactical acumen to defeat the Leonese in the field. Only one son of Fernando can claim victory and become the Emperor of Hispania.

Rodrigo and Antonio, now a knight of the realm, find difficulty adjusting to the new regime. Dissent and unrest run rife throughout the kingdom, and the fear of a knife in the dark from enemies old and new hangs heavy upon the pair. But if it is allowed to fester, it threatens to undo all that has been achieved. Can Rodrigo and Antonio root out the enemies of the king, and prevent chaos reigning throughout the land?

The Fall of Kings in the breath taking third instalment of the Legend of the Cid.

The Fall of Kings is available now on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Connect with Stuart

Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of table top war gaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.

He has worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move in to the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger.

Rise of a Champion and Blood Feud are the first two instalments of the Legend of the Cid series. He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mound of

Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers.

Connect with Stuart through his blogFacebook, or Twitter.