Canary Girls – Women Munition Workers In WWI Turned Yellow And Gave Birth To Yellow Babies



Another Canary Girl, Ethel Dean, related in an interview archived by the Imperial War Museum that “Everything that that powder touches goes yellow. All the girls’ faces were yellow, all round their mouths. They had their own canteen, in which everything was yellow that they touched… Everything they touched went yellow – chairs, tables, everything.” The prolonged exposure to the yellow TNT even caused some to give birth to yellow babies.

Keep in mind that these factories were so dangerous that women were not allowed to bring in hair pins or matches and that every minute movement was done with care to avoid any explosions. They were under quite a lot of physical and mental stress without adding itching and burning that they likely couldn’t scratch on top of it. For all of this strife, they were paid less than half of what the men before them had made. They worked long shifts, often as many as 12 hours a day in nearly unbreathable air.

Lilian Miles remembers her sister Grace, “She died in terrible pain and they said that they reckoned that black powder it burnt the back of her throat away. And the continual breathing of this black powder it sort of burnt the back of her throat away.”

While TNT poisoning is quite serious, whether or not the effects of yellowed skin and hair among the children were otherwise long ranging is unknown. One Canary Baby, Gladys Sangster, turned 97 in 2014 after living her entire life near the site of the munitions factory where her mother worked. She said that she had suffered no ill effects after the color faded when she was still a baby.