Cover Image: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls

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Terrible, and engrossing - a remarkable history of women and industrial poisoning.
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Radium, discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, was thought to be 'the wonder element,' a magnificent cure-all that could destroy cancerous tumors and could perhaps be the elixir of youth. 

When added to paint this 'liquid sunshine' could glow in the dark. In 1916, Radium Luminous Materials Corporation opened its doors in Newark, New Jersey and operated a watch dial studio that employed local girls, the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants, as painters. 

One hundred years ago, before OSHA and the EPA, industry had few restrictions or oversight of their workplaces in their pursuit of profits so even though the inventor of the paint knew of its destructive capabilities, the girls were not given any warnings or protective gear to wear. In fact, they were instructed to put the slim camel-hair brushes in their mouths to get a finer point for their work. Lip...Dip...Paint. Over and over, thousands of times a day.

With WWI in full swing, the demand for radium dials and watches was booming; the company paid an attractive wage and employed as many as 375 girls at the peak of business. The job wasn't for everyone: some couldn't work at the pace demanded, some didn't like the taste of the paint, and some developed mouth sores quickly. But those who were talented and quick enough stayed on, liking the workplace and especially the decent salary they were paid.

The first signs of illness and changes in blood resembled phosphorus poisoning, a well-known industrial poisoning in Newark, and the girls confronted their employers. They were assured that there was no need to worry--the radium amounts in the paint were so minuscule that it could not possibly cause them harm. 

In 1921, a corporate takeover ousted the original founder of the company and the business, renamed United States Radium Corporation, was poised to flourish in the postwar world. 

As the girls sickened, doctors and dentists were flummoxed by the illnesses the girls came to see them with: loose teeth, gum sockets that would not heal after extractions, pronounced limps, aches and pains. But since the girls saw different experts, all these differing complaints were not connected to one workplace.

When radium poisoning was first suggested, it was highly contested by the industry and legal suits fell by the wayside as prevailing laws did not support the workers' claims.

Meanwhile, 800 miles away in Ottawa, Illinois, another business started up in September of 1922: Radium Dial Company with its head office in Chicago. And the use of the 'lip, dip, paint' technique was taught to a whole new group of eager young women employees. And the deadly process began again. 

Other books have been written about this whole sorry and horrifying business but in this book, Kate Moore says she wanted to bring the girls' personal stories to light and give them a voice--all their hopes, dreams, pain, suffering and eventual deaths. But most importantly, how these women stood up for their rights with strength, dignity and courage. Because of their legal cases, the US government eventually formed OSHA and the EPA. Kudos to these brave women!

Having lived in the general vicinity of Ottawa, IL since 1981, we were aware of this sad, shameful history through displays in local history museums but didn't realize that the area where these jobs were carried on is still in the process of being cleaned up as of 2015, according to Moore. Radium has a half-life of 1500 years! And a spinoff of the original Radium Dial company carried on business until 1978 under the named Luminous Processes, and workers there noticed a high incidence of breast cancer with the company denying its culpability. And the beat goes on...

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this important and moving work of nonfiction. Thank you for bringing these women's stories to life in these pages.
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Thank you for the opportunity to review this book. Unfortunately, I did not finish it. I will therefore not be posting reviews of it.
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An excellent chilling account of scientific ignorance and corporate greed counterposed with human suffering. Very well written and difficult to put down. It will be an education for many who are unaware of this seemingly harmless but deadly industry.  It will (hopefully) be a great movie.
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The atrocities these women suffered unfortunately prove the inhuman forces of greed. The tenacious spirit of the sufferers prove that human inner strength becomes immortal.
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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore left me speechless and I now feel that I have had enough time to reflect on this emotional read. I realized that I have a difficult time rating books that are based on true stories, especially one as devastating as this one. How can I accurately rate something that happened to real people?

I had not known anything about the radium girls and their significant part of history prior to reading this book. During World War I, teenage girls and young women worked in factories to paint dials on clocks for the war effort. The women working in these factories were told that the luminous paint they used was safe. They had no idea that there was radium in the paint and that it was in fact deadly. It wasn’t until the women began to fall ill with serious medical conditions that they and their families started searching for answers. 

When it was discovered that the radium exposure was causing serious illnesses such as the loss of teeth and jaw bones, hip and joint pain, miscarriages, and tumors, the women sought legal help to obtain compensation. I was outraged that the corporations would not take responsibility and called these women liars. The corporations even went as far as hiring doctors to tell the women they were healthy and did not have radium poisoning. The corporations' dishonesty and greed made me sick to my stomach. 

This book evoked many emotions in me. I had a hard time reading it straight through because it was heartbreaking and I was shocked at the injustices the women faced. I believe that these women should be recognized for their determination and courage throughout their suffering. Their battle for justice influenced the precautions needed when handling radium and the necessary change for workers’ rights. 

The Radium Girls is a thoroughly researched and inspirational story of the brave women who fought for workers’ rights in the early 1900’s. I have a feeling this powerful book will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend The Radium Girls as it is an important part of history that needs to be heard.  

*Thank you NetGalley, Sourcebooks, and Kate Moore for the opportunity to read The Radium Girls. It was my pleasure to write an honest review.*
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Eine interessante Mischung aus romanartiger Erzählung und faktenbasiertem Sachbuch. Spannend und informativ. Empfehlenswert.
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4.5 Stars Rounded to 5

There isn’t one thing I can say about this book that would do the content justice. There were moments reading about the plights these women were going through where I fully had the hitched, ready to cry breathing, without crying. I mean, it’s absolutely devastating what these girls and their families went through. The corporate greed and complete underhandedness made my blood boil and I wanted to go back in time and punch all of the Radium company owners in the face. I mean, I still get chills when I think of the magnitude of the situation. As well as just how many people died and were affected by radium poisoning. It is sickening to say the least.

Lip…Dip…Paint… will now forever be 3 of the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard strung together. Knowing today how truly dangerous radium is, it is crazy to read about these women basically fully digesting the radium powder. Along with having ‘fun’ with it by painting their faces and nails, and wearing their best clothes to work so they glow when they go out that night. It’s really creepy when they talk about going to bed at night and there being no lights on, and seeing the glow come off their skin. It is seriously insane to think about the things that happened in this book, and in our very real history. 

Special shout-out to those who chose to think outside the box, and really try to figure out what was going on. The doctors, the government workers, and the few attorneys who really stood up for these women to ensure that justice was served against corrupt, greedy, deceptive and abusive radium companies. The same companies who touted how special what these girls were doing was, by painting the luminous clocks that allowed continued war efforts, and then just as quickly turning them out and slandering their integrity and humanity by refusing to take responsibility for what they were doing. 

Ultimately, numerous laws were added and updated to ensure such egregious miscarriages of justice wouldn’t be able to happen again in the future. These young girls started working to help their country, support their families during the Great Depression, and ultimately fought one of the biggest legal battles on U.S. soil, not only for the feminist movement, and women everywhere, but for every citizen of our country. Winning their legal battles didn’t bring back all of those that already died, didn’t find them a cure for their own poisoning, and didn’t help all those families who were so negatively affected by the whole situation. But it did give hope to all future generations that they would never have to go through such a horrific experience at the hands of a greedy corporation. We are all in debt to the sacrifices they made with their lives.

The only reason I dropped half a star off this was the fact that the author put all the notes and bibliography at the end of the book. I would’ve preferred if there had been footnotes throughout the book that I could’ve quickly and easily referenced as I went.

I am most fortunate to have received this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I almost shelved this as "True Crime" because that's exactly what it was - dozens of young women were deliberately exposed to harmful chemicals and nothing was done until it was too late.

This is the story of The Radium Girls - beautiful young women who worked as dial painters before, during and after the First World War in America. They worked with radium, dipping their brushes into the precious material to make clock faces luminous for soldiers and laypeople alike. In order to keep their brush tips pointed, they licked them.

Over time, the women began to deteriorate - finding tumours, having problems with their teeth, breaking bones, losing energy and eventually ending up beyond help - but what was causing it? And surely, once investigated, a company wouldn't continue to expose their workers to such harm?

Would they?

This reminded me a lot of the Kerr/McGee Plutonium scandal (immortalized by Meryl Streep in the film Silkwood). With profiles of many of the individual girls, I got a real sense of who they were - living, breathing women, some mothers, some not - women who wanted to earn their own money and contribute to the war effort. Women that "shined" at night because of the particles of radium on their clothes. Women who were repeatedly dismissed and told there was nothing wrong, women who refused to take that, women who took on huge multinational corporations and refused to go down without a fight.

This was a brilliant book, one I'd recommend to anyone. Fans of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" or "The Killing of Karen Silkwood: The Story Behind the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Case" may be interested.
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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore is the type of story that needs to be told again and again. Moore tells the tale of young women who took a job that was spelled out to be glamours and helpful to the war effort, but then had to step-up for their own rights and health.
Gut-wrenching as it may be, everyone should know and respect what happened to these strong, inspired young women.
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Radium Girls was well written-not sensationalist- connecting these women, their pain, and their legacies in terms of medicine and labor laws in an accessible narrative.
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A real life story about what happens when your dream job ends up killing you. This is a powerful story about how corporations put money above the lives of its women workers, and the toll it took on those women. The ailments of the women is described in anxiety inducing detail, but I think that's the only way to truly covey the horrors these women had to face. Gripping and chilling all at the same time, this is one of the best non-fiction books I've read in years.
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This book is absolutely heartbreaking. The story of the Radium Girls, like all stories of previously untold injustices, is a shocking and saddening one, yet it is an important story to tell. This book gives a beautifully descriptive account of the lives of girls and their tragic deaths. Although it is a historical record of events, this book is also a personal history of the girls and their struggles that brings their tale to life in a way an ordinary historical account never could. The sacrifices these women made and their brave fight to improve working conditions saved and improved so many countless lives. It was an honor to read their story. Warning - do not read on public transport and Bring a box of tissues for this one! Speaking from experience.
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This is an amazing story and an incredible book. Before I read Radium Girls, I had only a vague notion of some sort of scandal surrounding WWI watches, specially made so that soldiers could read the dials, day or night, in whatever conditions. I remembered that when Radium was introduced in the US, it became a phenomenon and a major fad. It was new and exciting and people went crazy for the glow. Part of me is impressed that I absorbed -- and retained -- that much information, because it had to have been years ago that I learned about it at all. However, I can't believe how much of the story I didn't know. Radium Girls is both fascinating and sad; it gives these largely-forgotten women a voice, and a chance to be heard. People complain about ridiculous regulations and government oversight so often these days; Radium Girls is a shining example of the dark side of those famous "good old days." It is a chilling -- and necessary -- reminder that it IS the government's business -- and it's responsibility -- to protect it's citizens, whether they are factory owners or factory workers.
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I had zero knowledge of the “Radium Girls” until I started listening to Moore’s book. And now all I can say is WOW. This book was absolutely devastating, yet so incredibly fascinating. I was constantly seeking out any spare minutes throughout my days so I could keep listening.

I think we can all agree that these women were dealt a really sh*tty hand. They were lied to and manipulated into a death sentence. And yet so many of them refused to give up, even from their death beds. These women were adamant that the companies who knowingly placed them in harm’s way would be made to own up to their wrongdoings, and positive changes would be put in place for future generations of workers. They knew they were doomed, but they fought anyway.

I don’t think I can even find the words to express how much admiration and respect I have for these women, or how baffled I am at the selfish attitudes of the men running these companies. But I do know you should read this book. Even if you aren’t a history buff or nonfiction fan, Moore has mastered the art of narrative nonfiction, making this book read like a story. She brings these women to life in a way that I wasn’t expecting. You’re going to learn so much from this book, all the while feeling as though you’re reading the best (worst?) thriller.
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How on EARTH is this not taught in school? How is it that I am nearly 40 and had never heard of the women who died from painting with radium? This book is sorely needed, and the fact that it's well written and composed is just gravy on top.

In short, back in the early 1900s, radium was used to make things glow, things like watch faces and panels for airplanes. Women were employed to paint these items, and they were exposed to insane amounts of radium...because despite it being known in scientific circles that it was poisonous, that message wasn't well-circulated.

Moore takes us on a more personal journey with some of the ladies who fought against the companies that killed them (once the source was discovered, which in itself is a fascinating story of science). I appreciated how she balanced the human side with the science, compassion with cold truth, and how this narrative taught me so much about something I had no clue about. The woman who painted dials never asked to be heroes, but they ended up making sure that their lives were not lost in vain--so much of our safety in the workplace today is owed to them.

This should be required reading in every school, everywhere.

I normally don't give 5 stars to books that I don't intend to re-read, but this one was so well-crafted, and is such a vital narrative, that it deserves that honor.
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I never thought much about glow-in-the-dark products that have been around my entire life, but this book gave me a gruesome education about it's history.  Young girls in the early 1900's who were thrilled to get jobs as factory dial painters ended up getting eaten alive from the inside out from radium poisoning.  Worse yet, the companies didn't give a hoot.  The most important thing to them was the bottom line for the corporation, not the health of their workers.  A well written book about a shameful period in manufacturing history.
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This was  an incredible story and I am so glad it has been told.  Unbelievable.
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This is such an incredibly inspiring story, albeit a tough one to read. Essentially, this is the story of the women martyred, who gave scientists our first insight into the havoc that radiation will wreak on the body. This book tells the story of the abused women who fought and pursued justice that led to the basis of workmen's comp and protection for those exposed to work-related hazards. I am astounded that I was not familiar with this story before. Kate Moore's writing is so full and inviting, that several times in the first quarter of the book I re-checked that I was indeed reading a non-fiction book. Each and every woman who she includes in this record is described in such detail that they all pop alive on the page. She handles each person's story with such loving care.  However, though this is a celebration of their lives and homage to these strong women and the impact they made on the world, for me, 2017 was not a year that I wanted to read about countless accounts of women ignored, used, and destroyed in the workplace. This book was terrifyingly relevant and at times read like a horror story in terms of the graphic description of the disintegration of these poor girls' bodies. I am glad that I read it, but it took about 7 months for me to get through this one...That said, I believe this one is an important story to tell.
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This book not only told the history of the dial painters who were poisoned by radiation from painting glowing dials for the war effort, it went deeper and made it into a story about the individual girls and their lives and the struggles and losses they suffered everyday from this poisoning. It was beautifully heart wrenching. You felt you knew these girls; these girls were your neighbors, your coworkers, or your family. You wanted justice for them. You knew their fate and yet you hoped of some other outcome, just this one time. This book took a didfferent approach to this story that hit you right in the feels. Excellent storytelling. I highly recommend this great read!
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