The Radium Girls

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

Even though at times it felt the pace of the book got bogged down in details, it was a very compelling story that I could not stop reading.  Before picking this book up I had never heard of the plight of the Radium girls or the huge impact they made on laws which now keep workers safe.   The determination of these women in the face of almost insurmountable opposition by unscrupulous companies was truly inspiring.  I think our patrons will enjoy this book very much.
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I thought this was such an enjoyable nonfiction read. Can't wait to share this with some of my older teens and parent readers! This will be hugely popular with fans of Hidden Figures.
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The Radium Girls were young, healthy, and in the prime of their lives until mysterious ailments start to affect them. This heartbreaking and powerful book tells the story of these young women who thought they were working in a safe industry - after all, the benefits of radium were being advertised in magazines, and what a beautiful glow it gave to the skin. But, when the truth comes out, these young women have to fight for justice. It's one of those books that's hard to say you love, because of the subject matter, but it really is a remarkable, well-written read. I highly recommend it to those who also enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Hidden Figures.


Tara McGuinness
Cuyahoga County Public Library /Bay Village

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I began reading this book with certain expectations, having been drawn in from the summary about shops hiring women to paint radium onto objects.  Maybe I shouldn't have come into it with a bias, but I was expecting straight, factual non-fiction.  However, for the facts presented around this dark time in our history, the author adds to it a sort of re-imagined day some of these girls would have.  It was this mix of fictional accounts with the non-fiction approach that really just turned me off to this.  I just wanted this piece of history to be told in a different way.  I did not care for the artistic flourishes and was too put off by this approach to finish this book.
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The Radium Girls was an extremely well written book that I would recommend to anyone interested in history, women’s studies, or industrial ethics.  The characterization of the individuals was superb, and invests one in the story.  The heroines had to endure horrible ordeals and the dramatization is involving.  I did find it quite interesting to note that Mercedes “Mercy” Reed lived so much longer than the others when she would eat the Undark from a spatula when you would expect the cumulative ingested dose would have had to be orders of magnitude higher than the dial painters. 

I found this story an earlier example of what happened with the Uranium refining done by Mallinkrodt Pharmaceuticals during the Manhattan Project, and though there were guidelines in place they weren’t enforced in the work place nor for the soldiers exposed during training to ground-burst nuclear detonations.

Great book.
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I finished reading this and immediately bought two copies for my cousin and my environmental health professor. It made my heart hurt, but I was so amazed
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This book is extremely well written. Often nonfiction writers have trouble balancing historical and technical detail with narrative, but that is not the case here. Time and locations are easy to follow and the real life victims are impossible to forget. 

Moore balances the horrors that the Radium girl's experienced with their enduring humanity and spirit. They are the heroes of their own loves, fighting for justice that they know they might never live to see. Every death feels like a personal loss and every victory feels hard won.
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Having come across the Radium Girls in my studies several times, I knew what the history and the facts were about, knew what Radium poisoning looked like in these women. What I had not known, since chemistry and medical books don't tell you that, nor did I find this information in any history books, how hard the struggle must have been for the women and everyone helping them for acknowledgment of the disease and getting justice. 

Kate Moore brought the "girls", who formerly were only names and figures to me, to life. She showed me how proud these women were to get specialised jobs that made a difference, especially a difference for their own lives and that of their families - at first in a very positive and then in a very negative way. Moore also showed me how hard it was to fight for justice and, what is most important for me, it is never in vain to fight for what is right.
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I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Kate Moore's The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women.  Thank you, Netgalley, Reading Group Guides, and Bookreporter! 
The Radium Girls has illuminated a dark moment in the history of women in America. I hope that everyone reads this book; in fact, it should be required reading in every history class in the United States! The story of the dial painters is heartbreaking to say the least. I admire their courage and resolve in their fight for justice as well as for their lives. They paid the price for laws and regulations that are still in place today, and their memory should not be forgotten!
This work of narrative nonfiction reads like a thriller. Many times I found that I could not read it fast enough!
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Many thanks to NetGalley for this advanced reading copy!

From the moment I started reading THE RADIUM GIRLS I was enthralled. The author’s goal for the reader to learn about each individual girl is thoughtful and ambitious. This is truly a book where the characters are at the forefront of the story. We see how each one, eager to earn a living, found Radium Dial and sealed their fate. The author handles the tragedy with diplomacy and underscored, yet effective use of detail, both medical and non (such as when one of the ill-fated girls catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror and sees her bones glowing through her skin. She realizes she has radiation poisoning and promptly faints.).

As I read, I became infuriated and frustrated with the way that the girls were lied to and manipulated by the company. Banking upon their innocence, the “doctors” that examined them kept the true results hidden, while telling them that they were the picture of health. Over and over, they would experience a toothache or jaw pain; the harbinger of things to come. Insidiously things progressed to such a degree that walking or eating without pain was impossible.  Thankfully, finally, the stars aligned and  the case was brought to court. I am still amazed that there wasn’t more public outcry at their plight; this would never happen today. (Or would it? See the author’s epilogue.)

The author’s style is clean and easy to read; letting the story shine through without calling attention to how it’s being said. Once the “how” overshadows the “what”, I lose patience with a book. The writing flowed naturally here, letting emotions build and always keeping the girls front and center.

Each life is carefully, lovingly recreated – all the hopes, dreams and horror each Radium Girl experienced. By making each “girl” have a background, this brings them to life and makes this tragedy more real. There are so many moments in this book that made me stop to think about these poor victims – if they were men, would things have progressed as far as they did? These lives were truly taken for granted to further Radium Dial’s needs. I’m not sure which is more terrifying; the fact that radium has a half life of 1600 years (meaning their bodies are still emitting radiation from the grave) or that no one thought to care more about these women who were clearly suffering. Even the dimunitive “girls” is simultaneously endearing and dismissive, if you think about it.

THE RADIUM GIRLS was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, partly because the subject is fascinating, and because it allowed me to feel a gamut of emotions; to have me truly invested in the story and its outcome. The strength these women possessed is evident on every page, keeping the tension high and making them heroines regardless of how they were treated.

Kudos to the author for illuminating their lives as she did! She took these “statistics” and made them human…forcing us all to think about how the girls were treated as disposable. The description of the court battles is very detailed, further underscoring the evil corporation’s plans to try to drag out the proceedings, hoping the women would die before they would have to appear in court.

I have nothing bad to say about this book; there is history, pathos, hope, and humanity on every page. This should be required reading for all managers and factory workers, both to keep these girl’s memories alive, and to prevent suffering like this from ever happening again.
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A very compelling story, well told.  I've already encouraged other colleagues to read it and gave a preview book talk to a woman waiting next to me at a restaurant - she is looking forward to finding it in her local library!
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What a somber yet informatively great book!  Full of heartache and strife,  this factual story is an empirical part of US history that we the public have heard little to nothing about.

It is the story of hundreds and of young  female  factory workers in the 20s whose job it was to paint the disls on the faces of clocks with a radium least paste.  Assured the paste for safe, soon the young women began to fall ill.   The radium for toxic and wreaking havoc on their bodies.  The affects of the radium were horrific, terribly painful and devastated to many. This gruesome injustice must be acknowledged and the families compensated. Read to find out what happened.

At times difficult to continue reading without bursting into tears,  the book  is one story I won't be able to forget. Ever.
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Extremely interesting book. This is local history as the Waterbury Clock Company is nearby with its own cadre of suffering girls and women. The event this book mainy fallows is the court case that winds thru the slow and though courts that the suffering women brought against the various clock companies to cover their pain and suffering and being unable to work during the Great Depression. The cost of doctors' and dentist 's care were huge in these women's life..
As strange as it seems now radium was seen as a wonder mineral and used as a wonder drug and tonic. Its was known have a vague sense of dis-ease and damage that it inflicted on its first handlers but was pushed from the get-go as a wonder drug for all ills. No concern was seen for the dial painters for handling the paint or  for the girls' safety durning their time at the  factory. (its ok. to eat at your desk next to the paints--its fun to paint your teeth and eyes during breaks with the brush wash water-- and take home your work smocks to be washed in the family wash. The only concern was the cost of the paints and not to waste the
the expensive material.
It was from these case  and others that the modern OSHA was  put in place for.. The martyred girls and women paid for OSHA policy in their blood and suffering.
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What a haunting story author Kate Moore has captured in her new book, The Radium Girls. This is an account of a real-life tragedy: the deaths of a number of young women who painted watch dials with a luminous material made with radium in the 1920s. During that time, these girls (and many really were girls, as young as 15, 16 and 17) were proud to land jobs with a company that supplied the glowing dials to America's fighting men. The pay was good, they enjoyed one another's company, and they thought it was glamorous and fun when their hair and clothes and very bodies began to glow in the dark. One girl even smeared the material over her teeth, to make her smile gleam more brightly for her beau.

Then, as this true story recounts, the girls began to fall ill. Their teeth became loose, and when they had their dentists extract them, sometimes portions of their jaws came out, too. Ulcers and sores and the gaps left in their gums refused to heal, leaking pus and smelling putrid. 

At first, doctors were mystified, and it was only after a few deaths that the dangers of radium began to emerge. Then another horror: their employers refused to admit what was happening, or assist with medical payments in any way.

Court battles raged for years, as the young women continued to die. Moore's subtitle is "They paid with their lives. Their final fight was for justice," and indeed it was. This is a shocking, unforgettable story of corporate greed, scientific ignorance, and, in the case of the girls, bravery, courage and faith.

According to the publisher, the book is based on trial transcripts, letters, diaries and interviews with relatives. It's a sobering, tragic, horrific story, made even more memorable because of the extreme suffering these women endured. The reader's heart breaks, after meeting them in the pages of this book and coming to know their personal hopes and dreams. Highly recommended, but not for those who may be disturbed long after the book is closed.
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I don't usually read non - fiction but the topic of the dial painters intrigued me, and I'm really pleased I read this book as it felt a fitting memorial to incredibly brave women and the men who supported them. Ms Moore had obviously thoroughly researched her subject and managed to write an engrossing narrative which really bought the characters to life. At times I wished it had been fiction as the women suffered such devastating effects from the "magic" radium and even when they were removing parts of their own jawbones their company refused to believe there was any problem. Living in a country with an NHS I was also shocked by the cost of medical treatment and how finding the means to pay for care devastated families.  
The end of the book, while sadly not surprising, is a challenge to today's women to continue fighting large companies so that they take responsibility for their employees and the environment in which they live and work.
The only negative was that my kindle edition didn't have any photos and it looked from the appendices as if the book will have.
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It was a privilege to receive, read, and review this outstanding book written by Kate Moore and supplied by NetGalley.  Thank you!

Could a society be so desperate that jobs, salaries, and prestige of a company would outshine the value of the lives of beautiful, intelligent, young women?  Daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers, friends… and dead—that’s who they were, the Radium Girls.

I became involved with each of the characters, feeling like I knew them as personal friends and neighbors.  Using journals and personal family interviews, the author captured the essence of these girls…their likes, personalities, loyalty, humor, strength, work ethics, fashion tastes—it was truly like knowing a good friend.

In 1917, times were hard and jobs were scarce.  When the government granted a major contract to a few companies to produce luminous watch, clock, and dial faces, the girls and women of Orange, New Jersey, and later, Ottawa, Illinois, lined up for a chance at a job that out-payed most available employment.  Patriotism ran high, and it was an honor and a privilege to help “the cause”, with the added bonus of making a wage which would put food back on the table of your parents and brothers and sisters.

But when the girls began to become grievously ill, the company, lawyers, doctors, the government—it seemed like almost everyone, turned a deaf ear to the girls’ pleas for help.  Mounting medical bills devastated families, but even more than that was the horrific and lengthy suffering the girls endured.  Jawbones fell out at a mere touch, the pain could not be masked by even the strongest medication, and many years after burial, their exhumed skeletons remained luminous.

Never have I read about such strong and courageous women as the Radium Girls.  Even when it seemed like they could not take even one more step, they arrived at court to fight and testify against the horrors they had had to endure because of the lack of industrial safety.  5 Stars!

On a personal note, my father passed away from eerily similar ailments in 2005 and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, one in which only a few doctors in the US had seen. He repaired broken X-ray machines in a research lab.  The fight for industrial safety is not yet finished.
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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

"LIQUID SUNSHINE" The element Radium was dubbed. It is 1917 and Katherine Schaub is fourteen years old. She is exited to be working the glamorous job painting the dials of watches and clocks at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation. It wasn't considered a factory job it was described as a studio at Third Street, Newark, Jersey. Each dial-painter had her own supply. Mae said when she first started in 1916 that American girls did not take up the lip-pointing technique with blind faith. She and her colleagues had questioned it being "a little bit leary" about swallowing the Radium. Asking if this stuff could hurt you? And they said No. 

Kate Moore did a remarkable job to humanize the girls in this part of history that we all owe so much too. Because of these girls and women we now have OSHA to protect us. It takes 1500 years for the effects of radium to wear off. These girls and women sacrifices have led to a safer environment for everybody. This book is a tribute to all of those souls that suffered but persevered to make a safer work environment. Both companies the USRC in Orange, New Jersey and the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois employed young women at a higher wage to do a dangerous job. Only the women didn't know the dangers they were involved with painting these glow in the dark instruments.

Kate Moore tells the history of Radium beginning with Marie and Pierre Curie's discovery of radium in 1898. Bringing all of the girls and women to life on the page who didn't have any knowledge of the risks of exposure to working with Radium. These women were lied to and denied compensation when they were unable to work and were dying. After these loyal employees found out it was the Radium in the paint and powder that were causing their jaws to break apart, sarcomas, amputations, these Companies did not want to help compensate. They fought hard against taking any responsibility toward those whom were inflicted by working for them.

I am glad to have had the honor of learning about all of the courageous individuals that fought an uphill battle. I think the Attorney who paid the legal costs and court fees to fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court deserves accolades of thanks. He took on a job that a lot of attorneys didn't want to go up against these companies. I was pleased with the decision of cert. denied. I had some issues with a big corporation and I personally know that ERISA which was enacted to protect retirees pensions has no protection of promised Employee health care. I know what it is like to find an attorney that is willing to take on a corporate giant. Most are not interested.

Thank you to Net Galley, Kate Moore and Sourcebooks for providing me with my digital copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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An amazing account of a little known piece of American history.  This was an extremely difficult read strickly due to the subject matter. What these women had to endure was simply horrendous. Their bravery and sacrifice has made the world a better place for us all. Well researched and well written.  Thank you for educating me on a previously unknown topic.
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Very informative, there is so much information! I'm really glad I got to read this, though at times things got a bit confusing, as oftentimes when introducing the young Radium Girls it skipped from person to person a bit too quickly. 
The Radium Girls wrapped up the whole situation from beginning to end in a nice, neat, easy to read, and interesting package.
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I saw this and thought "this looks a bit different" .  The blurb sounded intriguing.  I did not realise what i was letting myself in for.  That greed and power comes before health and safety.  Thousands of women with radium, this book relates to just 34 of them.

Marie and Pierre Curie discovered Radium in 1898. A new element. 
 1917 Katherine Schaub went to work in the watch dial factory "Radium Luminous Materials Corporation" in Newark, New Jersey.  The substance was used to paint onto watch dials so they glowed in the dark. The girls were using brushes thet they made onto a point by placing them in their mouths, then dipping into the radium paint and then painted the dials. A process known as Lip, Dip, Paint. 
At this point any danger from radium was unknown, in fact it was heralded as "the greatest find in history" and was marketed as a cure all from pills and powders to drinks, though most of these didn't contain radium.  It was a household name and nobody thought there was a risk.  The girls working at the factory glowed in the dark as the powdery substance was ever present in the air, it was on their clothes, in their hair, they even painted on their nails and used it as make up so that they glowed in the dark.  They would eat their luch at the table they worked at, they could never wash the powder from their bodies completely.  It bcame part of them, Young girls wanted to work at the factory, it was "the" job to be in as it paid well.
Gradually the some of the girls started to get aches and pains, they had problems with their teeth and gums. When a tooth was removed because of pain, the resulting hole didn't heal, and in fact got worse and travelled through the mouth, more teeth were becoming loose.  It got so bad that in some cases the girls actually lost some of ther jaw bones as they crumbled or came out in pieces while they ate. Dentists were at a loss and no connections were made.  Doctors became confused when girls came in complaining of painful backs, hips knees or ankles.  Girls had to deal with sarcomas, amputations, miscarriages and all were in horrific pain.   They all had this in common, radium had settled in their bones and weakening them, but again no connections were made. Things then started to get more severe as some of the girls became immobile and immaciated, they couldn't walk without pain or eat without pain.  Death occured and the cause of death was attributed to other causes, it couldn't possibly be radium.  In fact it was, but because this was a new element there was no documented evidence to show any side effects.  New intruments and ways of thinking had to come into to play before people began to realise that it was radium that was poisoning and killing the girls.

This book has brought me to tears so many times while reading it.  This is one of the most emotional and humbling books i have come across.  The author mentions that (she) "simply hope(s) that (she) has done them justice. In my opinion she has certainly done this and surpassed it.  It is a story that has shocked me, and even now i am struggling to put into words the impact it has had on me.  I got caught up immediatley in it.  Kate Moore has  told the stories of those involved in a very simple but articulate way.  I couldn't stop reading, i had to discover the truth and the outcome.
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