The Radium Girls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

The Radium Girls is a true story of the women who worked as dial painters with radium and their fight for justice and workers safety.  Dial painting was a lucrative job that paid above average, so most women tried to get positions in the dial painting industry. Girls would even lie about their age so that they could get jobs dial painting.  However, radium takes its time with its poison.  It has a shelf life of over 1000 years and symptoms do not erupt immediately.  By the time these girls started experiencing symptoms, the statute of limitations had already come and pass.  Not to mention the fact that most people refused to believe that radium poisoning was a fact and not just a ploy by these women to get payouts.  The Radium Girls follows these women's as they fight for not only workers compensations but, more importantly, justice.

The Radium Girls completely opened my eyes to a part of history that I had absolutely no knowledge of.  In today's day and age, we hear radium and we know it's bad news.  There are even horror movies based upon the effects of radiation on people.  But when radium was discovered it was looked at like a miracle cure.  The women in these stories worked with and around radium on a daily basis and were never told the dangers.  Their clothes were covered with it every single day and they would glow as they walked home in the evenings, but their superiors told them "it would give them rosy cheeks".  As far as they knew, radium was good for them.

This is not a fast read.  This is not one of those books that you can pick up and finish in 24 hours.  Not because it isn't a great book, but because it is a difficult book to swallow.  I am not a cryer by nature, but I had tears in my eyes throughout the majority of this book.  The suffering of the women and the evilness of the companies was just too much at times.  And I fully believe that the companies were undoubtedly evil.  You almost picture Mr. Burns from The Simpsons while reading this story; their choices were so very wrong that they were tinged comically evil.  Take for instance, one of the companies repeatedly tested the girls for radioactivity (which they found), and AFTERWARDS released an ad that stated how the radium they were using was completely safe and the women had absolutely nothing to worry about.  Mind you, this was after they had POSITIVE test results of radioactivity.  What kind of a person has the heart (or lack thereof to make those choices?  To be so focused on production with little care for human life?  These women suffered their entire lives because of those choices.  Yes.  I would call that Evil.

On the flip side of that, the women in the story were of the kind you hope to aspire to.  Strong willed women who fought and fought and fought some more for what they believed in and they brought about true change and knowledge regarding radium and the dangers.  These were women that were dealt a crappy hand in life, but instead of just taking it, they did what they could do to fix it for the future.  It was an amazing story to read, and I am so glad that I know their story now.

I gave The Radium Girls five out of five stars.  The author is obviously a novice author, but I fully believe she did this story justice.  One thing that stood out to me was that she gave all of the women a name.  Sometimes in these stories the author focuses on the main "characters" but she gives each of these women their voices and tells their story's.  It is a truly marvelous thing that she has done.  I would recommend this book to everyone.  How many of you have heard of The Radium Girls? This is an important part in corporate and workplace safety history, and if you have never heard of these women then you need to.

Thank you Netgalley for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

-BL-
Was this review helpful?
A boo that demands to be read! Full review on Goodreads
Was this review helpful?
I have to admit, I was not entirely prepared for what I read. I know enough about radiation poisoning to know that the women employed in these factories suffered, and suffered a lot. That's a biological reality I knew going in. It was how steadfastly the companies refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing that was the most shocking and the most viscerally upsetting. Their legal battles dragged on for years—over a decade. It's one thing to lose an arm or the use of your legs and have a workman's comp case take a few years. It's another thing for the case to go on for 13 years when you're dying of cancer. Not to mention these companies did the most in trying to dodge responsibility, both in the court of law and in the court of public opinion. They insisted that the sick, dying, and dead women were already in poor health when they started work; they refused to release medical examination records; they insisted that the cause of death in a few cases was syphilis, not radium poisoning, thereby adding an extra dose of slut-shaming indignity to it all. They claimed in one case that radium was a poison and therefore not covered by existing workman's compensation laws; after the law was changed to include poison, they turned around in another case and claimed that radium wasn't poisonous at all.

People talking about #resisting in this weird new era we live in also talk about the importance of surrounding yourself with stories of people being courageous and doing the right thing. I think that makes The Radium Girls a book we should all be reading, especially given that organizations like the EPA and OSHA seem to be on the public's shit list. Yet these are the organizations that cleaned up the mess that United States Radium left in Orange, NJ (the clean-up cost the equivalent of millions of dollars; USR paid a few hundred thousand); that protected all future employees who handled radium or other dangerous substances in their work.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. If there's any takeaway from The Radium Girls, surely it's that. The profit motive will squelch all but the strongest moral imperative, whether it's a luminous watch factory in New Jersey or sweatshop labor in Bangladesh. Robust worker protection and compensation laws are a society's most effective protection against large-scale corporate injustice; "a shield to protect, and not a sword to destroy" the humanity of workers, in the words of the Ottawa plaintiffs' lawyer, Lev Grossman.
Was this review helpful?
It’s not very often that I hand out 5 stars, but this book deserves every single one.  The Radium Girls are the young women exposed to radium while painting luminescent numbers on clock faces.  Little did they know that they were being poisoned using their lip/dip/paint technique.  Using their lips to create a fine point in the paint brush hairs, they were ingesting minute amounts of radium.

The author said “I wanted to showcase their shining spirits in a book that would tell their story – not just the story of the famous professionals who had helped them.”  She did so by creating a powerful story told from the women’s perspective, and she did a wonderful job of researching, piecing together diaries, letters and interviews into a heartbreaking tale of inner strength, courage and friendship.  Once the women began to become ill, they stood by each other and worried more about each other than themselves.  What made it all the more poignant was that they were so young, just getting married and having children, when their radium poisoning symptoms started.  I cannot imagine living with the immense pain these women endured.  

Just as powerful is the injustice of the men who thought so little of these women.  They encouraged the women to continue their dangerous work by lying to them and telling them it was safe work, even good for them.  Even after their teeth started to fall out, their jawbones were removed, sarcomas appeared, brittle bones broke easily, and women were dying.  How did they live with themselves?  Their greed made them lie to these women and do everything in their power to ensure they wouldn’t be compensated a dime.  Yet these women found strength in numbers and stood up to their previous employer and the company’s doctors and lawyers. They stood together to fight for justice, and did it for each other.  These are women I would have loved to have known.
Was this review helpful?
Death sentences for corporate greed. 

I remember an old Westclox in the house when I was young. I was amazed at how the numerals glowed at night, how beautiful they were. It seemed like magic. 

Radioactivity is kind of magical and deadly.

In the admirable process of humanizing the tragedy, the reader proceeds down the path the majority of the dial painters' lives took as their health mysteriously began to fail. Young, vibrant women who were suddenly ailing in ways that belayed their years. The narrative describes photos and people with imagery, but it would have been much more compelling if there were photos to accompany the text. The majority of the girls are described in physical details and a personality notation which gave me a strange feeling of reading a catalog. Then there's the repetitive and quite gruesome death spirals to read. The same series of events occurring and the horrifying wait for the link to be made. 

Radium was a wonder element when discovered by the Curies. People thought it could do everything and was used in applications from health tonics to industrial war efforts. It was hawked as being perfectly safe, even beneficial.

I abandoned my distaste for books that have the term "Girl" or "Girls" in the title when they mean women; it won't be too soon when this trend dies. Honestly, many of the women working in dial factories were girls with some starting as young as thirteen and many sixteen through eighteen years of age. While I wouldn't call this an enjoyable read, it is well researched and informative. 

Where the first section introduced the women, the second focuses on the fight they faced and the beginning of the litigation process. Laws are meant to protect, but here money protects money, and power protects power. Each push to rectify a unbelievably horrid set of conditions and worker abuse is met with resistance and undermining. Rather than resolving issues and misery, money was used to obstruct. Laws were drafted in ways so that compensation could never be paid out and doctors who initially treated a large group of girls going to the USRC to get renumeration and agreeing to lie to his patients. Charming circumstances of business trampling over employees, and proof the world doesn't really change. 

Except for one thing, the amazing determination of a few individuals who stood against the tide. This book is about those women and their allies: doctors, lawyers, and husbands. 

Chronicled are the horrible consequences of two plants in Orange, New Jersey with USRC United States Radium Corporation and in Ottawa, Illinois with Radium Dial. There were other companies, indeed, the last one shut down in 1979, but this book focuses on these two companies and their workers' plight.

This is one of those unknown histories that affected so much, but was forgotten, maybe because they were women or blue-collar stories, regardless, out of the dial painters' struggle for justice came advances for all workers: safety regulations, corporate responsibility and OSHA. If you harbor any questions about the importance of the EPA, know that they were still cleaning up the Radium Dial site located in Ottawa, IL. This is one hundred years later. 

Industries cannot self-regulate. If you need proof, read this book. 

Favorite Quote: "Radium eats the bone [...] as steadily and surely as fire burns wood."
Was this review helpful?
What a way to end Women's History Month. Saddest history lesson ever. If you've never heard of the The Radium Girls, you need to read this book. The Radium Girls tells the story of corporate greed and dishonesty, showcasing the injustice done when the businesses refused to protect these women hardworking women.
Was this review helpful?
A fascinating, incredibly moving true story about the radium factories during WWII. It was hard to put down while at times it was hard to read the details about the work conditions, the medical problems, and how so many lives were ruined.  Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
It's unbelievable to me that throughout my education I have never once heard of the dial painters of the 20th century, nor their lasting impact on American worker's rights through their legislative battles fought against the obscenely well-funded and influential radium industry.

Moore does an outstanding job at shading the varying levels of apathy, incompetence and hostility that these women faced in discovering and coming forward with their struggles. The corporate representatives, medical professionals, and other individuals complicit in the denial and continued to acknowledge the devastatingly harmful effects of radium are appropriately identified and rightfully skewered by their role in keeping the female dial painters from whatever justice they could obtain in the face of the swift and severe conditions that they faced as a direct result of their exposure to radium. 

The human aspect of the story is also extremely well drawn out, and compelling alongside the larger narrative that Moore seamlessly seasons with heart-wrenching details of individual women's stories. Towards the beginning of the book many of the smaller details that Moore lists about the women (a whole lot of unnecessary physical descriptors are invoked in the first quarter of the book) irked me to a small degree, but ultimately this was minor and is overshadowed by the vastly important narrative that was expertly woven.

The fortitude of the women captured in this book is astounding, and the story told here is deeply important not only as a piece of oft-neglected women's history, but also as a tale of awe-inspiring strength.
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls is a very difficult read. The subject matter is painful, thought-provoking, and made me angry. The lies and deceit of the companies trying to avoid exposure and responsibility is unbelievably frustrating and heart-breaking. This book would make an excellent addition to US History, as well as any class discussing ethics. My one concern is that there are so many details given in the book that it is a very long read and that might discourage some readers.
Was this review helpful?
This is a book I have not been able to forget and I find myself often thinking about the young ladies who suffered so much and received so little respect or compassion from the corporations for whom they worked. These girls were so proud and felt so fortunate to have obtained a job providing personal satisfaction as well as a decent level of income which made the horror they experienced even more profoundly deceitful. Yet the amount of strength and courage they were able to summon as they took on a system, that had all the advantages which wealth and power provide, was astonishing.

Scientific advancements continually improve our quality of lives, but the need to protect worker's safety will always be juxtaposed against the manufacturer's quest for productivity and profit. How, we as individuals and voters, view and react to this dichotomy will determine the type of society we will live in.
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls told a heartbreaking story that I had never heard before.  The beautiful, young women took a job painting watch dials with radium...the amazing new discovery that could do everything from give you "glowing" skin to cure cancer.  Unbeknownst to them, radium was a very dangerous substance that eventually took their livelihoods, their beauty and their lives.  The story of how they fought to try to improve their health and working conditions not only for women, but all workers is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.  I've already recommended this book to everyone I know.  These women were remarkable and their story should not be lost.
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls

This is the story of the American factory girls who painted luminous marks on watch dials. It's astonishing and heartbreaking in equal measure. At times I was incensed and at other times moved to tears of both sympathy and fury at what was going on. This is a story which needs to be told and it's an incredible slice of social history with the focus on many of the women affected and how it changed their lives and that of their family. It's difficult to believe that in the face of mounting evidence it took so long to bring about the changes needed to ensure factory workers didn't die of radium poisoning.

In the early part of the 20th century, radium was considered something of a wonder and was promoted for home use for skin improvement, better health etc. Even into the 1920's, when the potential dangers were recognised, factory workers were ingesting radium daily. They worked in factories filled with radium dust ( which incredibly was collected from time to time, mixed with sand and donated to schools for their sandpits). The factory girls literally glowed and some would even wipe the dust on their teeth if going out to a dance. It was cool to have glowing teeth!  The first factory workers earned phenomenal wages; although on piece work, they quickly established a 'dip, lip, paint technique' which allowed them to work very quickly.

Kate Moore's book looks in depth at a number of women who first worked with the radium paint and follows their story. She certainly gives these girls a voice which I suspect would otherwise have remained unheard. I understand that her research includes contact with direct family members of some of those involved and there's a real feel for personalities which brings the whole story vividly to life. Some of the detail is very difficult to read, but it's right that they are not forgotten. I suspect there's a bit of poetic licence with the dialogue, but for me, it's added to the authenticity without detracting from the facts, which are now well established.

Thought provoking and intense, I'm pleased I read this book and my thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley.
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a historical novel that everyone who is employed must read. It tells how a group of young female workers forced a change that lead to safer working conditions and the forerunner of OSHA.

It is the early 1920’s, a time of flappers, the Charleston and good times for many. The United States Radium Factory in Orange, New Jersey, Ottawa, Illinois and Waterbury, Connecticut employed many young women to paint watch dials with a newly discovered luminescent element also known as Undark.  This enabled the watches and alarm clocks to be seen in the dark. Later this same substance was used in military application such as the controls of planes and the sites of rifles. The pay was better than other jobs these women could do and they had been told that radium was harmless. Indeed, it had been added to other products such as toothpaste and tonics and was thought to improve ones health. These women were instructed to paint using their lips to form a point on the brushes, thus ingesting the radium. Not long after the women noted that some of the workers began to sicken with a mysterious range of problems. Some of the women became severely anemic, others to lose their teeth or suffer from incredible disfiguring pain. They slowly began to die.

This is the story of how these women bonded together to sue their employers over an occupational disease.  They fought to have the companies they worked for acknowledge their mysterious disease was radium poisoning and to change the statue of limitation in which an employee can become sickened and file.

But more distressing was the fact that in the early 1920’s, US Radium chose to ignore and disregard reports by a Harvard physiologist. He found that the workplace and the girls were contaminated by they radium. US Radium continued to tell the workers it was harmless and that all the girls were in good health. They hid these results from them for years. Such knowledge was bad for business.

Hundreds of women were employed in these factories swallowing radium, wearing clothing that glowed at night, later even mysteriously glowing themselves. These companies had wealth, the best lawyers and political contacts that these women lacked. Most of all these women lacked time. It became a David vs. Goliath battle with many women dying before the court battle could even take place. 

It is uncertain how many of these workers died of radium poisoning, but due to their efforts the United States made occupational disease compensable and the time period the workers had to file was extended. But these changes took until 1948. That’s 30 years and countless women suffered and died for the financial gain of the company. These women were surely suffragettes for safe working conditions for women.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and Sourcebooks Publishing with no obligation to review it. This is my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Although the story of the dial-painters' lawsuits has been told, it has not been told from the perspective of the girls themselves. Most of them did not survive. They died drawn out, agonizing deaths, their jaws crumbled into pieces, their limbs shortened, of strange cancers for which their doctors had no answers. Their families bankrupted themselves trying to keep up with spiraling medical and dental bills. Then the girls, most in their twenties, started to die, in excruciating pain. Yet two radium dial factory owners denied any link between their employment painting radium dials and their sickness. They refused to even contribute to medical expenses. After all, most of the illnesses manifested long after the girls left their employment. Radium poisoning was unknown and labor law favored big business. And radium was beneficent, promoted everywhere! Lawsuits dragged out for years in the hopes that the plaintiffs would die. Many did. 

Interestingly, it was not an American who chose to shine a light on this shameful but important piece of our history, but an Englishwoman.

Note: Be sure to read the introduction, in which the author details her extensive research. She mentions that she even visited some of the radium girls’ grave sites and corresponded with many descendants.
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls is an informative, infuriating, entertaining read. It reads like a legal and medical drama that cannot possible be true; yet it is. Moore kept the memories of these women alive and told their stories in a wonderful manner.
Was this review helpful?
WOW!  Erin Brockavich meets Silkwood meets Norma Rae - this books is a movie mash-up of 3 powerful movie situations/stories/ignorances.  .  I loved it.  This book broke my heart, pulled on my heart, gave me hope, shed light on many types of ignorance.  Powerful book.  Love the personification of the women/girls in the story...this isn't just a story to be told and science, it is about people who have a story to tell.  Loved the insight and making the girls so central to the plot.
Was this review helpful?
The Radium Girls was a tough read. I found myself crying on several occasions out of anger and compassion. And it was not always easy for me to read the descriptions of the girls' health problems and the symptoms of radium poisoning. This doesn't influence my review, but people that are a little sensible when it comes to these descriptions, like me, should probably know that before reading the book. 

Before I read that book, I didn't know anything about the use of radium in the industry in the twentieth century. But when I saw it, I got interested and decided to read it. And although I didn't plan to, I finished this book within three days. The author's style of writing and the fate of the Radium Girls really got to me and I couldn't take it down. It has been one of these non-fiction books that had more suspense than a lot of fictional books. Kate Moore brings the Radium Girls to life without emotional manipulation or giving the reader a feeling that she invented a lot of details. This might be because she not only did extensive research and included many quotes from relatives and newspaper articles from that time, but she also directed a play about the Radium Girls. That might have surely helped her developing that lively narrative. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone that is interested in women's studies or the history of laws to protect people at the workplace.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks for writing this book.  What a tragedy these girls went through when the affects of radium was little known.  The struggles the girls and family went through along with the doctors who tried to help them.  Eye opening the stance some doctors, legal system, and corporation went through to hide the dangers and failed to protect the innocent victims.
Was this review helpful?
I received a free copy of The Radium Girls, a recreation of the lives of the many young New Jersey women brought down by radiation poisoning in the early 1900’s from Netgalley, Kate Moore and Sourcebook in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you, for sharing your hard work with me.  

Kate Moore brings us an intimate look through the eyes of these girls, recreating their lives from diaries, letters and court testimonies, tombstones, family stories and dusty archives. She brings to life these feisty girls who spent their days painting minuscule radium numbers on watch faces, gun sights, and airplane dashboards.  This work, done quickly and well, provided a fine income for an artistic young woman.  Many applied for these jobs and encouraged their sisters and friends to apply, as well – both for the experience of working with this miraculous material discovered by the Curie’s, and to do their part for the war effort.  The price they paid for this experience was horrendous.  This is a story that needs to be shared so their sacrifices are not in vain, and as a cautionary tale as our world spins rapidly into tomorrow.
Was this review helpful?