Cover Image: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls

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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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This book shares a fascinating and tragic story about the women who painted watch dials with a radium solution during WWI. As a result of their work, they develop radium poisoning and go on to suffer unspeakable pain as their bodies are literally eaten away by the poison. Of course, the companies not only refuse to compensate the girls, but evidence shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that they knew radium was poisonous and ruthlessly hid this from their workers. The girls fight back and their lawsuits ultimately lead to many new regulations and laws that protect industrial workers.

This is an important read because it reveals a story that I suspect many people know nothing about. That said, I wish the writing was better.  I really wanted the author to turn the women's lives into more vivid stories, rather than just recounting facts and actions. From time to time she did do this, but not nearly enough, in my opinion. As a result, it often feels repetitive and reads in a slightly academic way.. That said, I'm still very glad I read it.
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The lesson of this story is still relevant today. Politicians say regulations kill jobs. Well, too few regulations kill people. 

The story of the Radium Dial victims is summarized in every book about nuclear radiation or nuclear history. I'm glad to see this horrific part of history highlighted in a book like this. It is the kind of non-fiction that might appeal to readers who typically avoid that side of the library. 

The author does an excellent job of telling this story that is full of horrors. Imagine reaching into your mouth and pulling free part of your jaw. This makes me shudder. Imagine trying to do simple things like talk and eat without your jaw. It really is unimaginable, yet it happened to young women, caused by (no, encouraged by) the company they worked for. 

And when it became obvious that the radioactive radium they ingested every day was destroying their bodies, the company pretended it couldn't possibly be related to their work. The company used the courts and loopholes to deny duly-deserved compensation to dying women and their families. It was absolutely disgusting. 

Even now, the sites of these factories are still dangerously radioactive. 

I think anyone interested in women's rights, worker's rights and nuclear history, would enjoy this book.
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The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice.
This book was really informative but heart wrenching for the women involved what they had to go through, most of them dying in the process, just terrible but really enjoyable book to read and learn about The Radium Factories of the time but equally annoying how Men in the 1920's repeatedly denied Radium had anything to do with teeth falling out, jawbone corrosion and many other ailments that was inflicted on the women.
It read like a thriller but was a True depiction and was very well done.
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--I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are purely my own and not influenced in any way.--
Prior to reading The Radium Girls, my knowledge on the subject was essentially that they existed and ingested radium without knowing it was dangerous. While that is true, I had NO idea as to how complex an issue it was and what a fight the girls had to put up to get the radium corporation to admit that radium was a poisonous substance. I fell in love with the girls impacted: the book is written in such a way that you feel like you know the girls personally (which massive kudos to Kate Moore, clearly a lot of research went in to this to make sure that the girls get the recognition and portrayal they deserve) and you feel the anger, heartbreak, and above all hope that they feel. I wanted to scream with them about the atrocities the company was committing and stand with them in their fight for justice. Being that the Radium Girls actually existed, their story needs to be told richly and with respect while making them human instead of characters, and boy did this book do that! I loved Grace Fryer and Catherine Donahue's strength and courage that shone as brightly as the luminous paint did.
Quite honestly, I feel that this should be required reading lest we forget the abominable actions that the corporations did and so people would learn about these powerful unsung heroes of the modern world.
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When I saw the topic of this book, I knew I had to read it. Not only does it deal with a fascinating and shameful era of history, but it focuses on the perspectives of the women where most affected, and who history has generally ignored. I very much respect and support Kate Moore's desire to the tell story of the women who died because of radium in their own words. 

For the most part, this story tells a the story in a compelling manner. It alternates between broad historical facts to descriptions of the many girls who worked as dial painters to descriptions of their medical problems as they grew sick (and died). As such, there is a shifting level of narrative distance throughout the book - sometimes there is a more traditional 3rd person tone, other times, we see a doctor's appointment that one girl goes to from her perspective, complete with some lines of dialogue. This very close narrative style makes the descriptions of rotting teeth and jaws horrific to read, and very much humanizes the suffering these women underwent. 

While I appreciate how much research went into uncovering the details of all of the lives of these women, and how Moore chooses to talk about so many of them, rather than a representative few, I do think it can be a bit hard to remember each "character." Often, they were introduced as a one member of a list of girls, with a few representative facts, and then referred to again later in the story. I found it somewhat hard to latch onto a single narrative or character for that reason and to keep track of every person in the story and their fates. I almost wanted to go back and make a list of characters so that I could update their timelines as I read along.

Overall, a very strong book, from a necessary perspective!

(I received a copy of this book via NetGalley for a fair review).
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I read this book over the last few days and I can't tell you how powerfully these women's story affected me.  I was touched by their inner strength and their willingness to take on a huge company, making them accountable for their actions.  the book covers a long period of time in two different states, yet the story was connected with the painful destruction from mismanagement of a dangerous mineral. 

The research was intense and I loved the facts and the personal glimpses into the girl's lives.  Kate Moore took me back to a time when young girls were innocent and unsuspecting of the greed and corruption of big business.  This book needs to be in schools, and the lessons were great.
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You are probably familiar with the saying “truth is stranger than fiction”. I think this book fits into that category perfectly. The events detailed in this work are like something out of a sci-fi movie. The pages of this book tell the stories of the young ladies who worked as painters in the radium dial industry starting in 1917. At the time the story opens, the scientific community’s understanding of radium and its effects was still in its infancy, but the substance’s characteristic of glowing in the dark made it a very profitable business venture. It was used commercially as a paint for the dials of clocks so that the numbers could be seen in the dark. As World War I began it became highly demanded for the instrument dials used in the military. The challenge at the time was that the painting of these dials had to be done by hand, this led to large-scale hiring of young girls as dial-painters. The girls were told that the substance was safe and they would even paint the substance on their bodies so that they could glow-in-the-dark when they went on dates. The painting technique involved putting the brush between the lips in order to form a point and in this manner the girls were ingesting the radium in dangerous quantities. Radium was also being used at the time as a treatment for cancer, and as an additive to health tonics. 

It didn’t take long before some of the girls starting having health problems. Often the first indication that something was wrong was when a girl’s teeth starting to loosen and fall out. Some girls began to have sarcomas. One of the girls had to go so far as to have an arm amputated because of a sarcoma. It took a few years for the various doctors and dentists who were treating these girls to understand that the root cause of the symptoms was the radium that they had worked with. This diagnosis led to a long, drawn-out legal process as the girls tried to get the companies to take responsibility for having lied to them and to offer some compensation for the pain and expenses they had endured.

The author’s stated objective with this book is to tell the story of “The Radium Girls” from the perspective of the women themselves and she has done just that. I found this book to be both shocking and emotionally moving. These girls are heroes for the fight they put up, and without their efforts this country may not even have a process for protecting the health and safety of workers. Today, we take for granted, and are sometimes annoyed by, the safety procedures present in our workplaces, but after reading this book you will never take them for granted again. I think this book should be required reading and I am giving it a 5-star rating because of the quality of the writing and the importance of its message.
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Books like Radium Girls brings to the forefront the important  of women during difficult times and what they can and do achieve.  Women rule!
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This story broke my heart and also horrified me. Kudos to the author who honors these brave young women who were determined to fight for justice and to improve labor laws.
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What a powerful book. It seems almost like fiction yet it is so recent still, clean up of radium was still occuring in 2015. Grace Fryer was never forgotten, you are remembering her now. How true that is, this is a book that will stick in my mind for some time to come. A must read.
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A remarkable topic that needs no garish dramatic trimmings…

Some approaches to history and storytelling work more favorably than others, it just depends on the reader and audience. Unfortunately, The Radium Girls The Dark Story of America's Shining Women tested my optimistic blasé attitude toward different writing styling and I couldn’t help thinking that in place of “If it gets someone reading…” that maybe History sometimes provides its own commentary and little needs added after. Perhaps the facts surrounding the radium dial painters is one of those perfect examples of a topic that needs no garish dramatic trimmings, those brave women’s preserved words, court documents and scientific specifics all tell their own remarkable story. I understand the connection with the stage this author has but the incessant dramatic flamboyance with heavy passages just didn’t seem appropriate in several chapters (ex. the various exhumations and there were even places where I stopped and hoped not another morbid comparative awkward joke was waiting after an obvious little innocent appearing tangent but they were always there). There were also the thickly spread expressive conjectures in these pages that had me shaking my head, I can only take so much “perhaps, as though, they were thinking, she must have been thinking, he thought only etc” before those parts have me wishing I picked another title. 

It saddens me to admit my disappointment with The Radium Girls The Dark Story of America's Shining Women and I do applaud the obvious research in other parts that didn’t seem just tacked on (you could clearly tell the author is fond of her subject) but the heavy chintzy figurative writing almost had me dreading turning another page and in truth I put this title down quite a few times. It was my absolute fascination with the serious subject that kept me coming back between looking up still frames, newspaper clippings and partial photos of the statue dedicated to the memory of those amazing women. Maybe in the end, this non-fiction work took certain flourishes a bit too far even though it was a relatively easy read in the beginning I still do not fully regret reading for the history and attention to such a serious topic. I just think I will find something more “appropriate” with something else on the available shelves.

*I would like to thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the opportunity to read The Radium Girls The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
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I greatly enjoyed this book. Reminding me a little bit of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and John Grisham’s novels all rolled into one. “The Radium Girls” chronicles the true account of the Radium poisoning the dial painters contracted by working with luminous paint.

The story begins by introducing the reader to all of the young ladies who worked at the New Jersey radium plant. The author gives a short description of each woman including their general personality and looks. While this part did get a little tedious to read, it only lasts for about a chapter and helps to paint a picture of each lady in the reader's head. This also is a nice tribute to the women as each one receives a short description, even if they weren't major players in the events that unfolded. The book also chronicles the women in Illinois who were working for another company using luminous paint. Later in the book there is a chapter introducing these women, but as there weren’t as many of them the descriptions aren't as tedious. 

The story then follows the women as they paint the luminous watch faces in the factories. The author talks about how the pay was fantastic, the work was glamorous (I mean, the women glowed after spending the day painting with radium), and they worked in close proximity to their friends. It sounds like the ideal job; until years later when the women became ill with radium poisoning and started dying off in droves. This is by far the saddest part of the book- reading about what happened to the women and the horrors they faced as their bodies decayed around them. Yet, although extremely sad and disturbing, there is a somewhat upbeat swing to the story as the women begin to realize the connection and fight back against the companies. 

At this point in the story (about halfway through) I really started to be reminded of John Grisham novels. The trials the girls (and their lawyers) faced, the way all representatives of the companies behaved, and the constant up and down action all felt more like a novel than real life. Throughout reading you will continually find yourself appalled that this actually happened, let alone happened so recently. You will also find yourself unable to stop reading, caring so much for the characters that you feel you need to know how they all came out of this ordeal.

The writing in this book is straightforward, descriptive, and polished. Moore obviously understands the fundamentals of writing good nonfiction and includes the perfect balance of emotion and cold, hard facts. I will definitely be looking for more works by this author because I greatly enjoyed her writing style.

If you enjoyed “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” then you will certainly enjoy this book. “The Radium Girls” is a disturbing and upsetting, yet deeply powerful book that will leave the reader admiring the young women and thinking about the story for days after finishing. Highly recommend.

I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I absolutely loved this fascinating, horrifying book! Coming into it, I assumed it would be the story of women in science. Another glory-filled retelling of strong American women acting as Rosie the Riveter. Partially correct, the story of these women is SO SO SO important. This absolutely terrifying tale is so very pertinent as women, once again, fight for their own rights in the workforce. As once again we find ourselves struggling with science and innovation versus safety. Who is it safe to listen to? With people like Dr. Oz filling their pockets as they sell vitamins promising new vitality and a younger look. Is it really such a stretch that radium, the wonder-element, was used, marketed and abused in such ways? Such an amazing, tragic story. That so many innocent, hard-workers had to die because management had to make their dollar. Heartbreaking and enthralling. I cannot shake this book and cannot stop telling people about it!!!
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This was, in short, a marvelous book.  

Ms. Moore has done an extremely impressive job in her research, bringing these women to life.  Her interviews, along with newspaper clips and court transcripts, have created a vivid picture into everything these women went through.  And oh, what they went through--I often found myself wincing just from reading all the health problems afflicting them from years of working with radium.  Their pain and afflictions are presented in a matter-of-fact way, not glossing over history so we understand how important it was for the women to be recognized, and for those in power to own up to just how dangerous radium is.  

There is a good handful of women whose lives we follow throughout this book, but Ms. Moore shows who they were as individuals, so by the time I was done I felt like I knew them.  This is an important episode of recent history that I knew nothing about, and I am so glad the author has written this book, allowing the radium girls to tell their story even further into the future.

As soon as Amazon permits reviews to be posted of this book, I'll be posting one there as well and updating this review with a link.
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Trials and tribulations are nothing new. We know that human struggles are as old as time. What a person does when he stumbles upon those rocky roads can either make or break the spirit. 

Oftentimes people go out of their way to clear the path for others. They may do it for glory, fame or weather. But most times, in my opinion, they do it silently with a pure motive – to help others. That assistance can take many forms – justice, education, awareness, kindness – or just because it’s the right thing to do. Such is the message I’ve found in several memoirs that I’ve recently enjoyed.

A powerful historic accounting of trying to right a wrong can be found in “The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women.” The detail recounting by Kate Moore documents the struggle to establish rights for individual workers who contract occupational diseases. In this case, five women went through physical and mental hell to paint tiny numbers on clocks and such. “The Radium Girls,” published by Source Books, is the first historical narrative that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.

What sets this narrative apart is the author’s depth of research and documentation. We see the women’s struggles; we feel their pain.

As early as 1917, radium was extracted to produce luminous paints. Plants in the United States and Canada hired thousands of workers, mostly women many just in their teens, to hand-paint numbers to fulfill lucrative defense contracts. They mixed glue, water and radium powder to apply the glowing paint to dials. The workers used their lips to keep the paintbrushes pointed, licking the tip as they met their individual quota of 250 dials a day. After work, they painted themselves with the luminous paint, including their faces, skin and even teeth.

While scientists and chemists used lead screens, masks and such to protect themselves from radium exposure, the dial painters were assured there were no dangers, no health risks and that radium might even make their hair and skin more lustrous. In fact, radiation leaking into their bodies was proving to be very unhealthy, causing anemia, bone fractures and cancer. Jaw bones frequently were rotting and breaking into pieces, leaving the women disfigured for life.

Even as co-workers began to get sick and die, the women were told not to worry. Anyone who complained was easily replaced. Economic times were tough, and the pay was good – nearly 2 cents a dial!

The medical community offered little help – or hope – for the women and their families. Efforts to diagnose and treat radium exposure did lead to new inventions, though, including one that measures exhaled radon. New ways of documenting health information were developed to track more than 2,403 cases and tolerance levels were established. Ultimately, radiation exposure became a recognized health hazard.

Early attempts at legal action failed against the predominant company U.S. Radium Corp., but finally five women were able to take their case to court.  Dubbed the “Radium Girls,” they didn’t want much – a bit of financial help with the astronomically high medical bills – but importantly, they wanted safety measures put in place and acknowledgment of the companies’ wrongdoings by hiding or lying about radium dangers.
Through their efforts, litigation and media publicity, legal precedent was set. These women, and all the silent workers impacted by poor working conditions, led the way for the enactment and enforcement of labor safety standards. 

The women of “The Radium Girls” weren’t able to prevent their bodies from being poisoned, but their actions cleared the way for a healthier, safer working environment for generations to come. Their brave stance against corporate injustice and greed is a tale worth telling and a lesson worth learning.
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The Radium Girls is one of those rare works of non-fiction that reads effortlessly, because besides the artful prose and the meticulously rendered characters, the story itself beggars belief. How could a generation of hopeful, bright-eyed young women be mistreated in such a callous way by their work place? How could a well-known company encourage a young female workforce to 'lick' and 'point' the ends of paintbrushes that had been dipped into radioactive paint? I certainly didn't believe this was true - until I researched and realised that yes, life can be stranger than fiction.    

The book traces the long-forgotten, landmark case of various female factory workers who had contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials. The paint itself (mixed with radium - at the time, deemed a 'wonder-drug') seeped into the clothes, hair and very bones of the unsuspecting workers, until they began showing terrifying symptoms of anemia and necrosis.

Kate Moore's novel is a tribute and an elegy to the working class girls who suffered horrendous agony at the hands of unapologetic capitalist corporations until they found a lawyer who was willing to fight back on their behalf. Moore spends time lovingly immersing us into the naive world of the girls, as they step into the world of work and become painters and artists. The glow of 'undark' gives their lives a Hollywood glamour they could only dream of. However the otherworldly light that clung to them like fairy dust is far from magical - unbeknownst to them it was the evil glow of death. 

With every rise, there must be a fall. So Moore takes us on the tragic downturn of the girls' lives, as she begins to paint with painful accuracy the onset of a series of agonising deaths that the mind finds hard to comprehend.  

The history of these girls and their suffering resonated deeply with me. It is at once a heartbreaking tragedy and a true life 'underdog' story. At parts it evoked memories of Erin Brokovich, and there were moments when I saw it dove-tailing with Per Olov Enquist's excellent novel 'The Story of Blanche and Marie'; another incredibly vivid and saddening tale of how radium destroyed of the lives of Marie Curie and Blanche Wittman, her assistant. 

When it comes to radium, one cannot help but be fascinated and horrified of it at the same time; especially the relationship has had with women. The Radium Girls is a book that will stay with me for a long time.
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Goodness me but this brilliantly heart-breaking book is going to stay with me for a long time. The tale of America’s Radium Dial painters is a haunting account of the devastation wrought on their lives and deaths as a result of working with radium laced paint. Originally hailed as the new health wonder element, Radium, it was soon realised was dangerous. However no one told the workers who risked their life every time they put the paintbrush in their mouths, delicately pointing the brushes with their lips to achieve the perfect effect on the dial faces of the illuminated watches in great demand from the military and the consumers of the day. The big business corporations behind the manufacturing of these products deliberately, callously withheld the truth regarding the dangers of their work from the girls and even told them it was good for their health. Their decades long fight for answers when they started to become ill and bits of their bodies started failing and even dropping off is, simply shameful. They needed help with medical bills, living expenses, they needed to have been protected and warned, but more than that they deserved to be told the truth, that none of it was their fault. Eventually they received their justice, too late for some of them, not without physical cost for most of them and unfortunately not without a ridiculously outrageous fight for all of them. Kate Moore’s book brings their story and their voices to the surface once more and means they will never be forgotten. Told as many stories of individual girls and their families, their lives and their deaths connected through their work. The style of writing is so engaging that you forget you are reading a historical, factual story rather than fiction and I could not put this book down. Even though I found their suffering and treatment by the corporations involved just appalling I felt compelled to read on. We should all feel compelled to read this and to never forget what these women went through to prove to the world that Radium was not safe. It makes you wonder what a different world we would live in if these women had simply crawled away and died in peace. It does not bear thinking about. Like many people I had no idea about these women but I will not forget them or this fantastically well written book.
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