The Radium Girls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction

Recommended Age: 13+ (some mature scenes)

I received a free e-book copy of this book from NETGALLEY in exchange for my honest review. This did not influence my decision in any way.

The incredible true story of the women who fought America's Undark danger
The Curies' newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive ― until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women's cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.
Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the "wonder" substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives… - Amazon.com
 
 
While I enjoy fantasy so so much, I do enjoy reading about historical events. I actually used to be a history major! So I was very excited to receive an ARC of this book on NETGALLEY! Thanks Sourcebooks! Anyways, when I read it I was expecting the dry history books of my college days… but I was highly impressed by this book! Not only was it totally engaging, but it was very educational without being pushy (which is pretty rare for some books especially for younger children). What really made this book was the character development. The characters in this book seem to just come alive and you really become invested in these characters and their plight. The writing is superb and is extremely enjoyable as well.

However, while I am freshly out of college I did try to keep in mind how this book would be for younger children, especially those that would pick this book up for a book report. Keeping that in mind, I did find that the pacing was a bit slow and that the plot was a bit drawn out because of it. However, very enjoyable book, very educational book, and very inspirational book because while this is a book about women who were poisoned by the radium fad it does show the strength of these women who could be a role model to many.
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This was an absolutely fantastic review of a little known historical event. As a scientist, I think it is very important to read these stories and understand how far our safety standards have come. I've recommended this to many friends since I completed it.
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Horrifying that companies could knowingly endanger workers lives and not be held responsible under the law.  I was heartsick with how short, painful and scary the lives of the radium girls were.  These girls who painted dials with glow in the dark radium for war planes and watches would suddenly become ill sometimes within a few months and sometimes within a few years of working there.  Their teeth would start to fall out and the holes would not heal and then pieces of their jaw would start to disintegrate and fall off.  Their joints would lock up or their bones would hurt and start to break on their own or start growing cancerous growths.  And the companies would try to blame it on women hysterics or bad hygiene or STDs.  Totally despicable.  Thanks to these women who stood up to the establishment, workers have the protections that they do today.  The author introduces you to each of the affected women and as a reader, you start to care deeply about these women due to all the personal antidotes the author tells you about them. And since radium poisoning is incurable, most of these women die slow, painful deaths.  This book will haunt you long after you read it.  

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  

I received a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalkey for review consideration.
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“The company,” said one girl, “always led us to believe everything was under control and safe, but I don’t think they cared.” from The Radium Girls by Kate Moore.

My first encounter with the Radium Girls was from Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook so I was thrilled when I discovered that I’d get the chance to read The Radium Girls through NetGalley. Kate Moore’s handling of the topic is passionate but not indulgently so. If handled too emotionally the story would read like a contemporary newspaper article. Rather, Moore effectively offers us deep insight into the individual lives which were swept up into corporate bottom lines. The background is of course that radium’s discovery resulted in human awe, curiosity and eventually developed into an enormous business. Initial studies demonstrated what people interpreted as healthful effects but over time and by 1901 there was enough evidence to indicate that at the very least radium was something which should be handled with caution. However, the industry cut corners and the glowing properties of radium provided a usefulness during war time which resulted in enormous profits and a need for workers. Moore elegantly delves into many of the finer points which surround the greater narrative.
Although the book can be summarized as a testament to worker’s rights and the tenacity of workers in the shadow of corrupt business Moore puts the spotlight on the individuals whose lives were shadowed. For me this is what made the book. What Moore and the Radium Girls worked so hard to make a point of is that it isn’t right for good people to work hard, contribute to society and then be treated as disposable commodities when the hard work also has debilitating effects on the bodies and lives of the workers. 
I don’t want to spoil the book too much even though and maybe especially because it is nonfiction. But I appreciated that Moore didn’t just cover the court battles and their eventual resolution, she delved deeper into the further reaching consequences (namely that radium’s half-life is 1,666 years and therefore it continues to effect the communities who played host to the radium companies). The book is a reminder and a call to educate advocate—which it seems is a timeless and universally relevant message.
By focusing on the titled Radium Girls, Moore shows the reader what bravery is and how advocacy cannot be effective when it is focused on short terms selfish goals because in fact it was the short term, selfish goals of the radium companies which robbed many young girls of their lives even as they gave them over in service to family, community and the hope of bettering their lives.
Despite being a difficult read emotionally, the writing is wonderful and I found it difficult to put it down. This is a vitally important read for everyone.
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This is quite a story. In the 1920s radium was the element of the moment. Because it had been discovered to have tumor-shrinking properties, people assumed it would promote health. They drank irradiated water among other things. People also loved the iridescent, illuminating qualities of radium. They painted the numbers on watch dials with radium paint so that people could have luminescent watches. The watch dials were painted by armies of young female workers. While dial painting was a sought-after job, the women paid a high price. Radium got in their bones, and attacked them from the inside out. Their bones started disintegrating. They grew tumors. Their teeth started falling out, and their jawbones did too. For years their conditions befuddled doctors. 

While part of the book is dedicated to describing the work and the workers' ailments, much of it is devoted to recounting the workers' search for justice. But justice would not be quick, or easy. Long before they informed the workers, executives at large radium companies were aware that radium was dangerous, and was killing workers. Instead of informing workers and taking precautions, the radium companies did everything they could to silence and discredit scientific information, and hide the results of medical examinations. The level of deceit was tremendous. 

This is a story of corporate greed, worker abuse, and worker resistance. This is definitely a story that needs to be told. Moore has done a great deal of research, and she writes with tremendous sympathy for the workers. There are parts of this book that felt quite repetitive. I felt like I was reading some of the same material over and over. Some tightening could probably improve the book. That said, it is an important story and one that Moore tells with interest and sympathy.
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If there's one thing I love, it's true history with gross medical details. Add in an uphill legal battle and women fighting for justice, and I'm in heaven. I already knew the basic story of the radium girls, and I was fascinated by them, so when I saw this on NetGalley it was an instant request - but I wasn't entirely convinced that this book would tell me much more than I already knew. 

How wrong I was. 

Moore delves into the personal lives of these women, giving them each distinct personalities and emphasising their humanity. The recollections of their surviving family members bring each woman to life - which makes their fate all the more tragic.

To my gruesome delight, Moore also doesn't shy away from detailing the horrific effects radium has on each woman, from rotting jaws and teeth to tumours and amputations. If you're squeamish, there are parts you may want to skip; but PLEASE don't let it put you off this book entirely because this is a powerful story that needs to be told (the epilogue is a depressing reminder of how easily we forget, and once again prioritise profit over human lives).

I was engrossed in this book from the first page to the last. The writing never drags, even when the story turns to the endless legal battles for compensation. It's popular history done very, very right.
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"Radium Girls" is such an important book for so many reasons.  It tells the story of a group of women factory workers whose job was to paint dials on watches using radium.  They were told the paint was harmless and put the radium-laden  brushes in their mouth in order to get a more exact brush tip.  As it turned out, the paint was anything but harmless and the USRC, (United States Radium Corporation), their employers, was aware of the dangers.  In fact, their employers went out of their way to conceal the dangers from their workers, causing unnecessary health issues, and, in many cases, ultimately, death.
A group of the women affected were determined to bring the USRC to court and obtain justice for themselves and for those who came after.  They fought to sue their employers and were a were a breed to be admired and appreciated.  Thanks to these brave women, others did not have to suffer the same deadly consequences.  
Moore has you embark on the women's journey with them.  You feel the pain, determination and spirit of the women as their plight is so sensitively described in the book.  Kudos to the women and the author for achieving their goals.
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Radium was used to paint watch dials as well as in many beauty and health products marketed to the masses. When World War I broke out, the production of radium painted clocks rose and many more women became employed painting them. The common practice was to use one's mouth to smooth out the ends of the paint brush leading to many women ingesting lethal amounts of radium. The terrible thing was when the women were lied to and told that the radium was safe; then when they fell ill, nothing was done about it. The book made me feel angry, sad, and ready to fight, because they knew what they did to those women were wrong, yet they let it continue. I would recommend the  book to others.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an eARC of this book. 
This is a well researched, well written, amazing piece of non-fiction that traces the lives of the women who painted watch dials in the radium-dial factories. Few really knew the danger of radium poisoning and those who did certainly weren't telling. It shows the strength and tenacity of these women who lived in the early 1900s when women were not expected to take the lead in tracking down and stopping the abuses that were occurring. This is a book that needs to be read. I found it slow going because it became overwhelming but definitely worth the read.
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Very well written story!  The author was able to portray the characters' feelings so well and the degree of information provided was good.  I for one, had not heard about this tragedy until reading this book.  Thank you for taking on this project so that these women are not forgotten.
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An emotional and fascinating read.
I had to think about this for a long time before I could write down my feelings, and even now I can't quite gather them together. I urge people to read this.
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I saw this book while browsing NetGalley for something to read. I had always skipped over it because it had already been published and I was trying to do good with my turn in dates. However, while watching PBS one night, I managed to catch the last 15-20 minutes of the program talking about The Radium Girls. I was fascinated. I immediately went and requested the book. I had to find out more about Radium and the destruction it did to these young women who worked with it.

First off, let’s start with the fact that Radium has a HALF LIFE of 1,600 years! Let that sink in. When most of us are gone, any Radium used in WW 1 and WW 2 will still be radioactive and wreaking havoc on anything it touches. When Radium was first created it was used in basically everything. It was used to “cure” cancer as it would eat the cancer cells but then eat the healthy cells as well. They made Radium make-up, lingerie, jockstraps, butter, milk, and toothpaste. During WW 1, it was the IT job to have. Girls made crazy amounts of money that let them dress in furs, the latest styles and have custom ordered dressed made for them. Everyone wanted to be a dial painter. Each girl was given a dish of powdered Radium and a white dish of gum arabic. They would take their brush, twirl it on their lip, dip it in the Radium mixture and then paint. They would repeat this over and over. Ingesting Radium as they went. The mixing of those compounds created a paste and made the Radium glow allowing them to paint clock faces for the soldiers. The girls would glow as they walked home. Their hair, face, clothes, everything. They were never told that it was a dangerous substance. Slowly they began to start having their teeth pulled. They started to limp and have stillborn/ miscarried children. Eventually, their jaws and skulls would abscess away. Some unlucky girls started to grow tumors in their shoulders, arms, legs, hips, uterus, and back. Some growing so fast that they would shatter the bones and break through the skin. Both they and their families started to take a stand suing the Radium companies for pain, suffering, medical bills, lost wages and eventually funeral costs. They went to court over and over. Each time the evidence was that the Radium was perfectly safe and caused no health issues. The Radium companies were doctoring the results so that no one saw what the reports really said. Will the Radium companies continue to win and brush the results under the rug? Will the multitudes of women eventually help change OSHA standards to what they are today?

This book was fascinating, sad, brave, and so hopeful all at the same time. The way the women’s bodies fell apart before their eyes was absolutely heartbreaking. The women who carried children within them just to deliver a dead child is heartbreaking. It made me hug my own children close. The ones that did manage to carry full term and deliver had a child that was always small and always behind on the growth scale. The way the women carried on knowing they were going to die but wanting to see it through til the end is so hopeful. They wanted retribution for what had happened and would happen to their friends and family. They never gave up hope. Finally, in 2011, a memorial to The Radium Girls in Illinois was erected after an 8th grader learned about what had happened. She slowly raised the funds and a bronze statue was erected in their honor. The only reason I gave it 4 stars is because it seemed to drag on for forever. I could read it for an hour and still be no farther ahead than what I was when I started. Don’t get me wrong, the book was amazing it was just a long read.
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I had some inkling of the history of the Radium Girls coming into reading this book, but even so, I had no idea how devastating this was going to be to read. The history of the girls and their radium poisoning was traumatic, but the depth of detail that Moore goes into with each of the girls adds so much more heartbreak to the whole story. Reading along with each of them as they start working as dial painters, so full of hope for their lives and joy at the good money they were making, and their glee as they discovered that when they came home from the factory and shone in the dark - and then being confronted with their declining health, as they are told over and over again that radium is perfectly safe - it's utterly heartbreaking.

This is not a book for the faint hearted, because it does go into a fair amount of detail about the physical effects the girls had from radium exposure, and some of the details will linger with me for a long time. But it is worth pushing through those details if you can, because the utter strength of these women, even as they lived in severe pain, is incredible. These women changed the world, and they deserve to be remembered. 

Highly recommended.
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Lick. Dip. Paint.

These three steps condemned many girls to years of pain and a shortened life. As they slowly suffered from radium poison, their company not only refused responsibility for creating a harmful environment but went so far as to hide or destroy evidence that showed contrary. 

I first heard about "the radium girls" when reading Sam Kean's The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons (this book has created a science TBR list for me of the most interesting cases).

The subject matter of The Radium Girls is morbidly fascinating and infuriating. What these poor girls had to go through, the pain they suffered, and what a corporation did to hide or ignore their pain is tragic and despicable. 

Moore does an amazing job researching and creating a cohesive narrative. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.
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This book was a tough read in that it was extremely graphic and extremely sad. To read what these women went though after painting radium dials was shocking and then to learn of the denial as these women were suffering was unbelievable. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history, social justice, and a good, informative read.
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When Marie Curie discovered radium, it was hailed as a miracle cure. Most of its properties weren't even well known, but it could be added in minute amounts to paint and make it luminous, which was then used for watch dials and military consoles. Young girls were employed in factories prior, during and after World War I painting the dials. The favored technique was to shape the brush, dip it in the bowl of paint, then paint the dials. At the time, it wasn't known what this could do to the girls, and as information gathered about the effects of radium paints, the companies involved actively hid it and lied to the girls.

Kate Moore did extensive research into the work records, health records, and court transcripts. She interviewed surviving family members, went to their hometowns, walked the paths that the ladies took. This kind of research shows, because the story unfolds and seems almost effortless while reading. The ladies in the workshops come to life and are slowly, painfully, suffering from the effects of radiation poisoning. All of the workplace regulations that we have now are because of their efforts to take the companies to task. The horrible pains, losses, and illnesses suffered are outlined, and it really brings home the difference a hundred years of knowledge can make. These ladies struggled to find justice and finally won that battle in court.

Some sections seem to flow more like a play, and Ms. Moore's background in the theater is evident here. She obviously cares about this topic and the ladies she researched, and you learn a lot about all of the ladies and their families in this era. This is a hard read in places because of that, and I had to continually remind myself that we now have laws and regulations in place because of these very abuses of power. Still, I couldn't help but think about the ladies and the effort involved long after I finished the book.
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This was a very interesting and emotionally engaging book.  I had some vague knowledge of the "radium girls" before reading the book, but had no idea of the impact that their pursuit of justice had on the country-- expanding and improving compensation for occupational diseases, contributing to the creation of OSHA, leading to stringent safety precautions for the workers on the Manhattan Project, establishing the dangers of radiation exposure on the human body, etc.  The author does a great job of bringing the dial painters to life, discussing their appearances, interests, aspirations, families, reasons for working as a dial painter, friendships, and interactions with each other at work.  She goes into detail regarding their medical ailments, the medical and dental visits, the uncertainty of the doctors and dentists about what was causing the symptoms, the research that suggested a possible link to radium, the accidental discoveries that provided insight (such as bones left on x-ray film leaving a white glow on the paper), and the opposition to the idea that radium, which was considered a wonder substance, could be poisonous.  The author describes in great detail the legal efforts to obtain justice and compensation for the women, as well as the efforts by the companies to hide knowledge of the harms of radiation (including company medical tests that supported the claims of the women).  My only criticism, and it is a minor one, is that while the author uses dramatic descriptions to evoke an emotional response from the reader, at times the author seems to be overly dramatic when discussing certain events or the conditions of particular women.  Overall, a book well worth reading.
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This book made me so unbelievably angry. It tells the true story of the women who worked as radium-dial painters during World War I, and all of the health issues they suffered because of their constant exposure to radium. The fact that the company was so determined to avoid compensating these women as they died agonizing deaths was infuriating. Moore does a great job of bringing these women's voices back to life while holding the radium-dial factories accountable for their actions.
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Radium Girls is a must read. It is part of the American history and this women need to be remembered.
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Ever heard of Catherine Donohue, Grace Fryer or Katherine Schaub? No? And yet these women have likely saved you from enduring the same bone-splintering fate from radium poisoning. Kate Moore's "Radium Girls" gives us a very personal and up-front account of the labouring women of the early 20th century whose bodies literally crumbled in front of their loved ones, while the denial of radium poisoning by greedy businessmen continued to cost more women's lives. Definitely a must-read for everyone but of particular interest to anyone interested in Feminist and Marxist histories.
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Most of us have come across the name radium at one point or another, whether it be in a school science lesson or through one of the many pop culture references to it. Before reading this book the only things I knew about radium were from the Fallout game franchise, in which you live in a world destroyed by nuclear fallout and try to survive attacks from “horribly irradiated” creatures such as feral ghouls. However, like many others, I knew almost nothing of the real world ‘Radium Fever’ that swept across the world during the early 20th century; a time which saw radium used in almost all everyday items such as a chocolate, water, toothpaste, cosmetics, and in clocks and watches.

dial-paintersEnter Kate Moore‘s “Radium Girls”, a richly woven historical account of America’s ‘shining women’ who worked in the dial-painting factories during the radium boom the early 20th century. Thought of as the luckiest girls on earth for getting to work with the ‘health miracle‘, hundreds of girls sat down to work every day at the factories where they diligently painted clock and watch faces in the very way in which they were shown to. Lip, Dip, Paint. Who would have thought that such a short and simple phrase could cast such a chill down one’s spine?

As a self-proclaimed “story-teller and non-academic”, Moore takes us on an illuminating historical journey into the horrifying consequences of such a simple act of putting a paintbrush to one’s lips and the diabolical cover-ups of their bone-cracking suffering by the very radium corporations that they ended up giving their lives to. As a student of History, I have read many dry historical accounts and have found that these often focus more on historical events than the lives of the very people who were involved in the making of those events. Frustrated with such an approach to a sensitive, emotive and hard-hitting injustice, Moore used her strengths as a storyteller to really focus on the experiences of the girl’s themselves. Following a number of women from the United States Radium Corporation and Radium Dial Corporation factories, we don’t just get to know these women but come to develop a surprising closeness with them as we watch them, literally, begin to disintegrate before the very eyes of their loved ones.

Moore’s powerful descriptions of these women, including what they looked like, what they wore, how they behaved, their romances, aspirations and families, helps to ground the reality of what happened to them, which is something entirely missing from abstract historical accounts. We don’t just hear about the terrifying science behind radium, the economic boom and the Great Depression of the 20’s, the abstract suffering and slow decay of radium poisoning, but we see it, we feel it. I never thought that I would see a shining woman, lit up like a beautiful firefly in the night sky as she danced down the street in her elegant new dress and her glamorous soft curled bob on her way to meet her hunky new romance. I also never thought that I would see the horror of women pulling chunks of their jawbone out of her own mouth, as blackened lumps begin to appear and their bodies become twisted into excruciating angles as they slowly endure the radium eating through their bones.

Whilst it can at times be hard to sit through, there were definitely a few times I felt sick or cried as these young women that I had come to know began to crumble away, the Radium Girls is a must read. I have always felt so passionately about history which uncovers the lives of people whom others wish to see buried in the decay of the past, and this is exactly what the Radium Girls is about. Helping to bring these women further justice after the horrors that they were put through by greedy businessmen and amplifying a legacy which is not told often enough. Your safety in the workplace from occupational poisons and the fact that we haven’t all died a similarly painful death from radium in nuclear fallout is largely thanks to these women. Yet, I can bet that you have never heard the names of Katherine Schaub, Grace Fryer or Catherine Donohue, to name but a few.

For the most part, I only have incredibly good words to say about Moore’s critically important book but, as with any book, there were a few niggly bits that meant that I gave this 4 1/2 stars rather than 5. I found the jumping between the two different factories in Ottawa and New Jersey quite confusing, especially given how many different people we hear about during such a short space of time. However, I did find that this was slightly offset by Moore primarily focusing on particular girls throughout the book. Another tiny niggle I had was that although I majoritively enjoyed the story-telling aspect of Moore’s work, there are times when her writing can become a little bit too purple prose which, at times, I found a little bit distracting. And lastly, I did find Radium Girls a little bit of a slow read. It took me almost exactly a month to read it, and I struggled a little bit with the length of the first section of the book which focused on the “setting up” of the story. Yet, once again this didn’t bother me too much, particularly as I felt that the slowness of the book ended up cleverly lending itself as a mimicry of the women’s very long fight for justice and I would rather Moore used more words to do these women’s lives justice than rush through.

Lastly, I would just like to say a huge thank you to Sourcebook for allowing me to read Radium Girls through Netgalley and, of course, to Kate Moore for capturing the Radium Girls in such a powerful narrative. As I read my copy through Netgalley I sadly didn’t get to appreciate the wonderful photographs included in the hard-copy of the book, so can’t wait to get my own copy of this!
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