Eminent Blog Post: Catherine Donahue

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  • What draws you to your chosen person?
    • Something that draws me to Catherine Donahue is her persistence in the face of tragedy. As her case progressed, it became clear that she was going to die, but she still continued with the litigation. She was shunned for suing one of the only workplaces in Ottawa. Illinois at the time, and was also advised by her doctor to not continue the lawsuit because of her ill health. And yet, she persisted. Through her persistence, she won monetary compensation, and even though this cannot reverse what happened to her, it was a step forward in worker compensation and advanced the concept of worker safety in the United States. Her persistence in the face of adversary is inspiring.
  • As a learner, what do you share in common with your chosen notable?
    • I would say that we are both interested in the legal system. We were raised in very different eras, and in different regions. I think our interests, while similar, are also a result of vastly different circumstances. I find litigation interesting because of the role it takes in shaping society, while she turned to it as a way to find justice.
  • What qualities do you share in common with your chosen notable?
    • I think we don’t share a lot of qualities. I aspire to emulate her dedication in the face of hardship, as well as her perseverance.
  • To what extent does your chosen notable exemplify your own goals in TALONS?
    • Something that Mr. Morris has told us is that grade 10 TALONS is all about achieving our own autonomy. In many ways, Catherine Donahue was able to achieve her own autonomy, even though she was physically reliant on others. She was advised by others in her community to not pursue a settlement, because she would potentially harm the community’s relationship with the company. Her doctor also told her that she couldn’t pursue the lawsuit because of her health. Catherine made the decision to continue and was able to win her case.
  • What barriers might you have connecting with your eminent person- gender, class, religious faith, geography- and how might you address these barriers in your speech?
    • Catherine Donahue was a very devout Catholic, and one of the things she talked about was not being about to attend church; she was unable to kneel because of the radium in her hip. While I am not religious myself, I think that I will be able to accurately portray her by being empathetic and finding as much information about her as I can.




  • How has this person contributed to their field in a tangible and positive way?
    • Catherine Donahue has improved the lives of laborers and workers by ensuring companies are held responsible for their actions. Her case set a legal precedent for the compensation that workers are entitled to. Her case was ground-breaking because of the circumstances of the case: she was suffering from an industrial disease, which had manifested itself a few years after she stopped working for the company. In this time period, companies where not substantially held accountable; Catherine Donahue’s case, with it’s legal implications as well as publicity, helped hold her employer accountable, and paved the way for others holding their employers accountable.
  • In what ways has this person left a ‘ding in the universe’? Will they be remembered for affecting change in 10, 50, or 100 years? If so, how and why?
    • Catherine Donahue left a ‘ding in the universe’ because of her actions. By winning her lawsuit against US Radium,  she set a precedent for which workers could use to fight for their right to preserve their health and well-being. At the heart of her lawsuit was the question of what was more important: companies’ profits or individual health. This is a dilemma that we still face today, and she helped raise awareness and sympathy for those suffering with industrial diseases by sharing her story.
    • Although she was instrumental to fighting for change and for worker’s rights, I don’t think that she will be remembered for the next hundred years. I find that even now, her story has been overlooked. That’s one of the reasons why I chose to do her for eminent.
  • What obstacles has / did this person face during their rise to eminence? How did they overcome or deal with these obstacles? What are their wants and fears?
    • The biggest obstacle that Catherine Donahue faced was her health. She had been periodically exposed to high amounts of radium for the duration of the time she worked manufacturing glow-in-the-dark watches. This lead to her developing jaw necrosis, and eventually succumbing to the effects of radium. During the court case, she struggled with her illness; she feinted and had to be carried out of the court room to be revived.
  • Why is this person worth researching, remembering, and teaching your peers and community about?
    • Catherine Donahue is worth remembering because her story teaches us the importance of persistence, as well as why we should stand up for ourselves and question authority when it seems to be putting us in harm’s way. If Catherine Donahue hadn’t questioned the information that she was given on the safety of radium, she, like many of her colleges, would have attributed her symptoms to rheumatism, thus not finding the justice she deserved. Her story is important because she fought for justice for herself and her coworkers; her efforts resulted in a change in how American industry is regulated.
  • If part of a large field of study, why choose this person over others in this field?
    • I chose Grace Donahue over the other Radium Girls for two reasons: she won a substantially large settlement in court as opposed to settling outside court, and there was a substantial amount of publicity around her at the time. Both of these factors, the settlement and the publicity, gave her actions a larger reach- a bigger ‘dent’ if you will.

What wisdom might we ‘take away’ from a study of this person?

    • One “wise nugget” that we can take away from Catherine Donahue is that no matter someone’s physical ability, they can make a change in the world. Catherine Donahue, as a result of the radium poisoning, was unable to even take care of herself. But, with the help and support of others, she was able to sue the company that she worked for, get compensation for her illness, and set a precedent for workers everywhere.

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