The Radium Girls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

We read this book for Book Club.  I couldn't bring myself to read past the first chapter, although I gave it a second try after discussing the merits of the book with other bookclub members.  All of us said it was a "tough read" for the subject matter.  I thought the book would be similar to "Girls of Atomic City" which was interesting to read and not too disturbing (although some of it was tough).  However, Radium Girls was too much for me -- as someone who makes my living writing analysis reports predicting "bad things happening", and how to prevent them, I knew that sticking radium coated paint brushes into your mouth was NOT A GOOD IDEA.  ONLY IF you have a stronger stomach for this sort of thing, I recommend the book, based on the book club's evaluation.
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Having read many wonderful reviews, it was an choice to pick up Moore’s tragic, real life story behind the young girls who painted radium on dials in the 1920s. Alas, I found myself wishing this subject matter had been as easy as the choice was to read. I’ve likely read thousands of books in my life and within the aforementioned books I’ve encountered countless deaths. It is fairly safe to assume most people ponder their own death, alongside the more macabre possibilites for the worst case scenario. Upon reading The Radium Girls, I have added a new type of death to the list of unimaginable horrors, radiation poisoning. Moore flawlessly captures the exuberant nature of youth surrounding these young vibrant workers, with the hope of their whole future still ahead of them. Previously receiving radiation training during my graduate research, I was physically cringing as the story transitioned into the girls beginning work in the radium factories. It is so hard to imagine a world in which the dangers of radiation are not known and radium was in fact thought to be a health boost. Moore weaved a story in which this relatively new substance could be perceived as magical, due to the glowing aftereffects and especially with so many influential individuals touting its benefits. Fairly quickly, these young women started presenting mysterious, terrible symptoms, eventually resulting in suffering a death beyond comprehension. Furthermore, infuriating is a vast understatement regarding the actions of the radium companies. I still cannot fathom how those men in charge could live with themselves, knowing that they had and were actively, in some cases, poisoning their workers. I can think of only a handful of books that have caused me to rant and rage for days after reading, and this topic might have superseded all others. Overall, The Radium Girls was one of the most difficult reads that I’ve ever encountered, however in literature that characteristic is far from synonymous with bad, often being quite the opposite. I’m so thankful Moore chose to tell the story of the The Radium Girls and the indescribable suffering they endured, alongside the relentless drive these women exhibited throughout their tragically shortened lives to reveal dangers of radium.
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This was an extremely sad account of the torment the women of the United States Radium Company had to endure to obtain justice for their wrongful poisoning. It’s a example of profits put before people and is heart rending. These women showed unbelievable courage in the face of adversity. This book was well written and researched. Be prepared to be saddened by the accounts of the anguish these women went through.
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Thanks to Netgalley for providing me an advanced ecopy of the book. This review is solely my opinionas an uncompensated reader. 

I was interested in this book because I first heard of the Radium Girls from my husband, an occupational health specialist. It is astounding the stuff people used to use for “health benefits” – like radium and mercury. The extensively researched story helped me get to know the women and their story much better. Their story is a landmark case in the field of industrial hygiene and what responsibilities companies have to protect their employees on the job.

Kate Moore London takes a huge amount of research and organizes it very well by date and location. The sections are Knowledge, Power, Justice. Because there are so many Radium Girls it is hard to remember who is who at first. I don’t know if the published version will have pictures or not.  I think that would be helpful.  
Sometimes London adds details that just don’t add to the story. “Later, she would marry the rather dashing Vicent L Porte, a man with piercing blue eyes who worked in advertising.” “She had married Hobart Payne, a tall, slender electrician who wore glasses, in 1922; she described him as a ‘fine husband.’ He was a man who told jokes and loved children; folks described him as a ‘very knowledgeable.’  These details and the choppiness of the words just got in the way. Editor, where art thou? Last one: “Pearl had thick dark hair and pale skin too, though she was rounder-faced and more full-figured than Catherine, and her hair was curly.”  

The terse writing does not measure up to Erik Larson, Bill Bryson, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other non-fiction writers I’ve enjoyed. “But, for Mollie, time it seemed was running out.” “Deposited inside the body, radium was the gift that kept on giving.”  “Flinn examined her elegant body carefully and took some blood.” “Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways.”  Let’s get beyond the sometimes sixth grade writing!

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say these women suffered greatly from the radium poisoning. I’m not going to go into as many details as London, but one spent a summer encased in plaster from her waist to her knees in the hope of keeping her body still. Jaw bones literally disintegrated and fell out with teeth. The women couldn’t heal from surgeries and teeth extractions and had open wounds. My heart went out to them. Besides the physical suffering, they had to fight the companies in the courts.  

Towards the middle of the story, the continual use of the word “girls” bothered me. These were strong working women. In discussing this with my husband, he said it was most likely the word the press used when covering the lawsuits of the ‘Radium Girls.’ It was the historical term. I decided to let that one slide.

The story of the Radium Girls is a compelling one. Better writing, editing, and fewer superfluous details would radiate brighter with the readers. (Sorry couldn’t help it.) 

A reader’s guide is included for potential book group discussions.
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I learnt a lot from this read! I tend to read significantly more fiction, than non-fiction. However, if more non-fiction was written like The Radium Girls - that would definitely change!

Kate Moore writes with genuine humor (often also with irony) about pretty horrific events. Just think of your jaw decomposing and falling apart - one of the many negative side events of working with radium on the manner of the Radium Girls. Yet, such a horrible image is tempered with humor, and Moore's descriptions of strong, independent, determined women that I couldn't help but relate to. You will be rooting for the Radium Girls from their first introduction. 

 I would recommend this read to anyone who likes history or humor, or even just a good story about justice.
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https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2117221062.  .    I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley for an honest review. This nonfiction account of horrific results from young girls working with radium paint and putting the paintbrushes in their mouths is a sad and upsetting story.the author tells the stories of many of the young ladies working in the factories. They were all told to “dip and point” which is dipping the brush in the paint and pointing it with your mouth to get a fine point. The story follows the decline and eventual horrendous deaths of the young ladies. Everyone lied to them!  Finally, after many deaths and years of suffering., they found a lawyer who helped them sue the company.  The results of the lawsuit changed all our lives forever...
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4.5 stars.  Besides being featured in a documentary and a play years ago, amazingly, this is a mostly untold story in industrial history.  Hundreds of young women were hired in New Jersey and later Ottawa, Illinois to be dial painters.  They used a radium based substance to paint luminescent faces for watches and instrument panels, often using their lips to point their paint brushes.  As the years passed, these women began to experience painful, grotesque and troubling symptoms that left them horrifically sick or dead.  This story follows some of the more outspoken of the young women, along with their doctors and lawyers, as they fought back against the companies that knowingly endangered them.  This book is extraordinary.  You can tell just by reading how emotionally connected that author became with her subjects and it only adds to the overall awe of these incredible young women.  I think this is an especially important book as the new administration is starting to do away with some of the industrial regulations.  There are reasons that these regulations are necessary and it is books like this that keep stories like this alive.  I receive this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I loved the idea of this book, but it dragged on and on until I finally stopped about halfway through.
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This is a well researched book. There is a lot of data in this book. It shows the lives and sufferings of many women and their families, friends  through many years, Lots of information about doctors, lawyers and leaders of the factories as well. (three locations) Although the characters lived almost a century ago, we are given a lot of details. The book reads like a diary.
The message for today's reader is clear : political and industrial leaders are not willing to accept scientific truth if it is in the way of their business. No matter how many lives are lost, they deny facts and care about nobody except themselves and their corporation. Unfortunately several "scientists', in this case doctors are willing to support them for their own personal gain. A horrible, but true story.
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Subtitled  "the Dark Story of America's Shining Women", the title is sufficient to spark fear - of content, of just how shocking this story can be, of more abuse against women. You get the picture.


I've read quite a dose of non-fiction lately, and this stands out.

It's not that difficult to read. Ok, some reviewers have commented that it's not a quick and easy read, and it isn't. Reading about radium poisoning was always going to be an experience for which you wanted some interruptions. But I loved the way that Kate Moore personalised these stories. She owned each one. It felt like she had tea with them, their families, their neighbours, and she understood the inflections, the uniqueness of each powerful story, and most importantly, the character of the woman who should have been alive to tell it herself.

As should be the case with a good historical account too, you should learn something about what you're reading. I hadn't realised that not only was radium not considered dangerous in those times - it was only good for you - the green juice of the times, as it were.

I couldn't read enough of these women's powerful stories, I couldn't put the book down, and I was enthralled by every minute.
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Both as an attorney and in my past life as a journalist, I learned how to research. I also discovered two often overlooked keys in researching a subject, ones I tried to pass on to new attorneys.  The first is that you often can research forever so you need to learn when to stop diving into rabbit holes.  The second -- and more important -- is that you don't need to use everything your research uncovered. Providing an inordinate amount of information hurts more than it helps.

Failure to observe the latter precept decidedly cripples Kate Moore's The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. The book is a meticulous examination of what happened to dozens of young women who painted watch dials.  Over the years, they would be given a number of nicknames.  The Ghost Girls. The List of the Doomed. Women Doomed to Die.  And in February 1938 they named their own group The Society of the Living Dead. The names came from the radium in the luminous paint they applied to dozens of watch and instrument dials a day. 

Moore, a British author, delves into the story of these women, their horrendous illnesses and their fight for justice. It's a tale of corporate callousness and almost criminal deceit, as well as the lag between scientific advances and the law. Unfortunately, it is a narrative that is overwhelmed by people and details.

Two companies are the villains.  Prior to World War I, Radium Luminous Materials Corp. opened a watch dial factory in Newark, N.J.  (It would later move to Orange, N.J., and become the United States Radium Corp.) After the war, the Radium Dial Company opened in Ottawa, Ill., about 85 miles southwest of Chicago.  By applying paint containing radium the numbers on the dials would glow in the dark, leading Radium Luminous Materials to call its paint "Undark." Some of the numbers were as small as a millimeter in width, so the delicate work called for nimble, dexterous hands.  As a result, the painters usually were women and a majority were teenagers.  
 
Three words summarize what gave rise to their eventual predicament. Lip. Dip. Paint. 

To ensure a fine point at the end of their brush, the women used a technique called lip-pointing. Throughout the day they would twirl the brush in their mouth to form a point, dip it in the paint and apply the paint to the numbers. This process also moistened any radium that hardened on the brushes. How often each worker lip-pointed each day was reflected in their earnings.  Paid on a piecework basis averaging 1.5 cents per watch, the average painter took home $20 a week ($370 today) and the fastest sometimes earned $2,080 a year (almost $40,000 today). 
 
A critical factor in this approach was that radium was considered a wonder drug at the time.  When the first plant opened, radium was used to treat everything from cancer to gout to constipation. Dozens of radium-laced products, such as lingerie and cosmetics, even enemas, were on the market. Thus, rather than being warned of any dangers, the girls were told that, if anything, they would benefit from their exposure to radium.  
 
But dozens slowly developed unusual physical problems.  Complaints of intractable pain in the jaw was common.  Teeth were removed in an attempt to alleviate the pain but not only did the pain remain, the holes left by the extractions didn’t heal. They would form ulcers and abscesses, which would also being showing up in other parts of their mouths. As this progressed, jaw bones would break by simply applying pressure with a finger. They had  radiation poisoning, a disease unknown at the time but one that would produce a horrific death. 
 
The first dial-painter died in 1922. She was 24 and only a few months before quit the job she'd held since she was 19.  That and worker complaints led to various studies and investigations over the next couple years. Most, though, were conducted by industry experts and company doctors.  Moreover, the industry suppressed anything that might suggest radium paint was causing these problems.  The situation began drawing media attention when an employee in Orange, N.J., filed the first lawsuit over the condition in February 1925. On June 14, 1925, another female employee in New Jersey became the first dial-painter ever tested for the presence of radium. (Some wondered if it was merely coincidence that the test came a week after the first death of a male employee.) Her death four days later made the front page of the New York Times. 
 
Even more media attention was generated when the parties to the lawsuit were going to autopsy the dial-painter who died in 1924. When her body was exhumed five years after her death those present reported that "the inside of the coffin was aglow with the soft luminescence of radium compounds."  Every piece of tissue and bone examined during the autopsy was radioactive.
 
Yet not only did the industry aggressively fight the lawsuit and others, it did its best to suppress evidence that might support the claims.  Moreover, the fact radiation poisoning was essentially unknown when the women’s problems developed meant the law also was a roadblock.  All the suits were brought after the statutes of limitations expired for common law injury or workers compensation claims.  While both New Jersey and Illinois made some industrial diseases compensable under workers’ compensation, radiation poisoning wasn’t among them  Even if it was, those specific statutes of limitations also expired before the women’s conditions manifested themselves for years and before they knew the cause was occupational.
 
Given that the radiation poisoning appeared to be a death sentence, public outrage grew as the litigation dragged on and it appeared the radium girls had no remedy. Settlements were eventually reached in most of the cases, although at times it was only enough to cover medical and burial expenses.
 
Moore takes the reader through the effects on the women, the industry efforts to cover up any danger and the women’s struggle to find legal representation and a legal remedy.  The extent of the book's research is reflected in the fact it has nearly 1,500 footnotes. Yet Moore's failure to be more discriminating in using the research produces a significant downfall.
 
At its core, The Radium Girls is a fascinating story of women with horrendous medical conditions fighting dishonest corporations and law that had yet to recognize their plight.  But the core gets entangled in excess.  The book’s “List of Key Characters” contains nearly 70 names.  All of them -- and more -- are heard from over the course of the book, making it difficult to keep track of who is who.  This is exacerbated once the book begins jumping back and forth between people and lawsuits in New Jersey and Illinois. It feels like, having devoted so much time and effort to research and interviews, Moore feels obligated to include as much of it as possible.  This leaves an otherwise compelling tale adrift in a sea of information.
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I don't typically have a problem with my blood pressure, but reading this book got my blood boiling.

This well-researched non-fiction book takes a look at the dark side of a once-glowing industry.  During the first World War there was a demand for watches and clocks and other instruments with glowing dials.  The Radium Dial Company in New Jersey set up shop and become one of the biggest producers of glowing dials and numbers and hands for watches and clocks.  The glowing paint was made with a combination of phosphor and radium - a relatively new source (at least a new form of radium [with a half-life of 10,000 years - though that wasn't known at the time]).

The girls (women were hired, like with many jobs, because the men were serving in the military) were paid by the dial and precision was as important as speed and the girls were taught to take a fine brush, bring it to a tight point by using their lips, then dip in the phosphor/radium paint, and paint.  Repeat.  They were assured, time and again, that the paint was completely safe and they even laughed and played with the fact that they would glow in the dark themselves. And because they were paid by the dial, they often ate their lunches at their work table in order to be more productive.

This isn't a mystery, though...the reader knows what's coming.  Soon the girls start to experience unusual aches and pains.  Local doctors haven't seen these sorts of things and the wasting away of the girls is attributed to a number of things, including venereal disease. And when a death certificate says that the cause was from a sexual disease, it's pretty hard to pin it on the business and get due compensation from them.

Because the radium was ingested by the mouth it attacked the bones in the jaw first, in most cases (radium eats away from the inside and destroys bone tissue).  Therefore, it was often dentists who first noticed the effects and it was a specialist in New York City who really uncovered the problem.  And though that in itself was a long (and painful) process (too late for some), it was only the beginning of the problems workers at Radium Dial Company (and another plant in Illinois) would face.  Denial by the company owners and management continued long into and throughout legal processes.

And this is where my anger tuned in.

I wanted to get up and punch Radium Dial owners in the nose.  The lies, the deceit, the cover-up.  It all seemed so clear (in hindsight) that they knew (or at the very least suspected) that something in their materials was making their employees sick, but in usual corporate fashion - even in the 1920's and 30's - it was better to leave the women to fend for themselves and mount huge medical debts.

It is a heart-breaking story.  I can't imagine anyone reading it and not being moved by the plight of these women.  Author Kate Moore makes it personal - introducing us to the girls and letting us get to know them individually.

Moore builds this story nicely and we come to realize that what the girls ... and the world ... needs is a champion - someone to take up their cause and fight - to give them a small amount of relief and to help change the laws for the future.

You'll have to read this to see how it turns out.  It's a powerful read and there aren't many happy endings here, given the nature of the story, but it's something that should be read.

Looking for a good book? The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a powerful story of young women facing death by industrial poisoning and their efforts to stay alive, be compensated, and ensure this doesn't happen again.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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A deeply moving story about the girls that painted watch dials with radium. Just a fascinating part of our history.
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The Radium Girls is an unforgettable and heart-wrenching account of girls who painted dials for watches and instrument panels with radium-based paint during the early 1900s. Because of corporate greed, these girls weren’t told that radium was dangerous to their health, even after it was proven detrimental and extremely poisonous. This book is the account of their fight for recognition that their terrible health problems and deaths were caused by the radium. The author does a creditable job of telling their story, although I feel it could have been condensed a little. The many people involved in the story made it a little confusing. All in all, it’s a very interesting account of a little-known part of our country’s history.
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own
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This is a heart-wrenching book that I had to walk away from several times. These women suffered more than any human being should have to endure.

It is not a light read, but I highly recommend it.
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In conclusion: do not put radium near mouth. In fact, do not put radium near the body. At all. Ever. *Shudder*

A fascinating but also disturbing history of a time when people were only just beginning to understand that radium wasn't safe and the women whose lives were destroyed by radium poisoning they got from their jobs.
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Sourcebooks and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women.  I was under no obligation to review this book and my opinion is freely given.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a look at the young women who gave up their health and, some of them, their lives, to use luminescent paint in radium-dial factories.  The miniscule amount of radium powder that they mixed into the paint settled like a fine dust on their clothing, their food, and their bodies, yet their employers kept the secret about the potential harm of the product.  Instructed to put the paintbrushes into their mouths to pull the finest line of paint, the women were unaware of the danger.  When the young women started to become ill, it seemed that no one outside of their families were willing to help.  In an industry whose profits were skyrocketing due to the war, the owners of the companies in question were loathe to part with a single cent.  Through their pain, suffering, and death, the radium girls were responsible for helping to create safer work environments and laws that have stood the test of time.

The Radium Girls is an eye-opening book about the unsafe working conditions that existed well past World War I.  In the author's zeal to humanize the young women, however, she loses focus on what they stood for.  Many women gave their lives for an industry that turned its back on them.  They fought to be noticed, to be helped, and to help others not suffer needlessly.  The author spent too much time discussing their hopes for marriage and their dreams of children.  This was an important part of their lives, but the point to the book was to discuss the women in the larger context of their working lives and how the system failed them.  Regardless, I did gain a fair amount of new information because of the book and I would recommend it to readers who are unfamiliar with the subject matter.
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I am voluntarily submitting my honest review after receiving an ARC of this ebook from NetGalley.

The Radium Girls is so brilliantly awful that it is a must read for everyone, regardless of your preferences in genre. This is the story of the outright murder of young women in the pursuit of profit. Despite mountains of evidence proving that radium is a dangerous substance, young women were told it was safe to paint watch dials with it with no protection at all. The workers are even tested for radiation poisoning, with their results sorted by those most likely to die first, yet the women are not informed of these test results. In one of the most memorable scenes painted, a young worker even licks the brush she uses to paint radium onto watch dials to increase her accuracy as instructed! The crime itself is so shocking that if the author gets a little too passionate in the hard sell of the disgusting callousness of the corporate executioners of these workers at times, it is easy to forgive her. This book is a haunting account of the price these women paid for corporate greed and a shocking account of the depths of depravity humans are capable of sinking to in pursuit of the almighty dollar. It is a book that should linger long after reading it as a powerful reminder to humanity of what can so easily happen again if we relax our guard in this era of willful abandon of regulation designed to protect us from such depravity, deceit and greed. BUY THIS BOOK!!!
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I loved this book, but it took me months to get through. The book is beautifully researched and goes into great depth of the true life events. The author weaves a very intriguing narrative that kept me engaged for the entirety of the book. All of the women had such compelling stories and the author really brought each and everyone to life convincingly. However, this book took me such a long time to get through. Not because it's not a great book, more because the subject matter is difficult and at times graphic. The women who worked in these factories had severe medical issues due to the toxic materials they were working with. This is not an easy beach read, but it is an amazingly researched and beautifully written book- I highly recommend it.


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1991000107?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
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An impressively and deeply researched and beautifully written book. Although it was packed with historical and scientific information, the human interest material was full of empathy and personal details that made the young women come to life. This book serves as a frightening cautionary tale during these times of careless deregulation of industrial safety standards and as a testament to the fact that corporate greed has long been part of American society. Because there were so many young women affected by this terrible chapter of our history, the narrative did seem a bit repetitive at times, but it just served to underscore the fact that the horrible effects of the radium were fairly consistent, yet corporations and corrupt officials were amazingly able to deny the reality of what was happening. I highly recommend this book. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance e-copy of the book. I also had the pleasure of hearing the author, Kate Moore, speak at Book Expo, and her passion for the topic came through equally clearly then.https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2099988162
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