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The Radium Girls

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<i>Radium Girls</i> is  the story of female factory workers who were exposed to an insane amount of Radium after being told it was safe. It follows their fight for justice while trying to get the factory to claim responsibility. 

This is written more like a textbook rather than a novel but don't let that scare you off, this is a book that deserves to be read. Once you get into the flow of the writing, you can't put this one down.

5 stars for sure! 

*Thanks NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy of this*
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In the first years of the 20th c., radium, a newly discovered substance, was thought to have all kinds of beneficial uses including in medicines and, because of its glow-in-the-dark effect, on such things as clock dials. During WWI, dozens of women, most of them still in their teens, were hired to paint luminous dials on watches with radium paint.  Because the numbers were small, the brushes would often smudge. To compensate, the women would dip their brushes into the paint and then put the brushes between their lips to form a better point.  They were told it was safe. 

Several years later, many of the women began to experience odd and excruciatingly painful health problems often starting with their teeth. As the dentist would extract a tooth, chunks of jaw would come out with it.  Soon, at an age when most of them were just old enough to marry and start a family, many of these women, known as the dial girls, began to die.

 The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore tells their story, the joy they had finding a job that paid so well, the envy of others as they glowed all over as the paint residue covered them from head to toe, the horrendous effects as the radium poisoning coursed through their bones, and their long and often bitter fight to get compensation before they died.  She tells the story with empathy and insight. The reader gets to know many of the girls as individuals, their personalities, their families, their refusal to back down even as the company, many doctors, and the prosecuting attorney did everything they could to prove that radium was safe. She tells about the people who fought for them against the odds. And she tells of their symptoms and their horrible deaths. 

Although this is a book about an important and little-known chapter of American history, Radium Girls is no dry tome.  In telling the story of the dial girls, Moore has created one fascinating, compelling, unputdownable page-turner of a book, one I highly recommend to anyone.

<i>Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review</i>
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I'd heard about the dial painters years ago in high school science class, and seen their story on  those history shows my sons are always watching, but I never realized how truly awful the industry was. The way it was explained to us in school, the victims were silly girls who didn't know any better. But lip, dip, paint was how they were taught to do their job and were continued to be taught even after the dangers of radium were known. What happened to those young women, and the lengths their bosses went to to cover up the facts and keep their factories open, is horrifying. The book is well-written and will haunt me for years to come. Once the author gets to the drawn out court battles, the pace starts to drag a bit, but it's worth reading through to the end.
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Utterly fantastic.
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Absolutely outstanding! Extremely well-researched and well-written, taking its time to describe many of these tragic women and the horrific injuries they suffered. It felt long at times (and it is), but that in-depth story needed to be told in order to do them justice. I promise that you will not be able to read this book without getting angry. Really angry. But read it anyway - these girls need their stories to be known. GREAT book!
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This very well researched and detailed book is heartbreaking. The women who worked as watch/clock dial painters using radium suffered horribly. The companies that they worked for fought them at every turn refusing to   admit their jobs made them sick. There was no help with medical bills even as the women were dying  off one by one. These were young, vibrant women reduced to medical wrecks, disabled, unable to care for their families or themselves. The bravery and tenacity of the woman and their families and attorneys was remarkable. This little known chapter in our history helped establish better occupational hazard laws and lead to reform of some labor laws. A great book for women's history month displays and programs.
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The first I had ever heard about the Radium Girls was on one of the cable tv "hidden history" shows.  I was horrified by what had happened to them and wanted to know more.  Unfortunately, at the time there wasn't any real information out there for the general public.  I was thrilled to see this book was coming out.  The ages of the girls and many were girls at 11 and 12, involved with this horrific part of industrial history shocked me.  These workers were putting a radioactive material in their mouths multiple times a day because they were taught that as part of the painting process.  It's definitely time that these women are recognized for the debilitating pain they went through in the name of progress, and the part they played in making workplaces safer for everyone.
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The Radium Girls reader is shown the torturous pain, heartbreak and disregard that dial painters were faced with once they became pervaded with radium poison. Oftentimes, I felt such a rollercoaster of emotions I would exclaim first in pleasure of a positive event, only to be affected by such tears a few paragraphs later that I could no longer see the words. Kate Moore's research into the use of radium by inclusion in paint for luminous dials, as well as the devastating medical results is amazing. Just a glimpse of the personal resources, document sourcing and bibliography proves that there was not a reachable stone un-turned in her investigation. I appreciate knowing that The Radium Girls is a trustworthy reflection of the true events that led to the deaths, disabilities and loss which followed, not only those "glowing girls" but their children, relatives and friends. It is a book that has touched my heart.
Full Disclosure: I was allowed to read a copy of this book for free as a member of NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and I was not influenced to give a positive review.
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This timely book reminds us of the hard-fought battles by "ordinary" people--for respect and safety in the workplace.  It reminds us of why OSHA regulations that we often think of as bureaucratic, are necessary.  The author provides a great deal of information about workplace injury that is horrifying.  She presents it as a compelling story of individual women and their families--in physical pain, and yet fighting for their right to compensation.  There are real heroes and villains in this book,.  HIghly recommended for general readers, even the YA audience.  This book could be used for classroom discussions about the fight for industrial regulation in the US, why it is important, and how workplace injury and disease affects real people.  People who enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be interested in this book.
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This book was a dark and somber read. I had heard of the Radium Girls before but had never read anything in depth about their work or their struggles to get the companies to pay out for medical or compensation. I basically read this in one day. I found the flow to be steady and clear. The author obviously took her time to research as many women as she could that fought the company men for what was their due and then we're often cheated out of that too. I found myself having to put this read down and calm down as the way the company men and their attorneys acted was just so wrong based on the work world today. These women were strong, had conviction and a can do attitude. This is one of the many reasons women and men have the protections we all do today. The pain physical and mental the women went through and the agony of their spouses children and others went through is laid out in plain English, but is still hard to comprehend.
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The year is 1817, and being a dial painter is the most coveted position for young women. They dream of walking home, stepping out with beaus, getting married in beautiful dresses while shining with the radiance of the radium power they use to paint delicate watch faces. Little do they know that the radium they paint with - that they stick into their mouths to sharpen the brush bristles, that they draw funny mustaches on each other with, that they breathe in every single day - is slowly poisoning themselves and neither does anyone else. Except maybe the radium companies themselves. 

On the history book range from creative nonfiction (a la In Cold Blood) to history textbook, Radium Girls reads as a very well-researched chronology of events deeply embed with masterful storytelling. While there are no particular characters that dominate the entire book and it is more a gross sense of injustice that drives the story, each character is nonetheless surprisingly compelling no matter how brief his or her appearance. The complexities of these real life heroines are sometimes painfully exposed - their dreams, their disillusion, their despair, their determination. And the story is one that should be told more often than it is, as the case of the dialpainters was a turning point (and yet perhaps not, as the author does not fail to remind us - a great show of refusing to slap a completely and falsely positive ending) in workers' rights. 

The book should be compelling for any reader interested in history (especially history told in the style of storytelling), but it also contains a significant amount of the legal accounts associated with this story, which should be interesting for those interested in workers' and women's rights and legal history. 

A masterful storytelling of an almost completely overlooked piece of U.S. history. 

Thanks to the publisher for providing an advance digital copy in exchange for a fair review!
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The Radium Girls is a terrifying, sickening read, yet it is an excellent account of a dark spot in history.  I hope I never forget those women.
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A powerful and poignant book about a group of  women who were unknowingly poisoned  by  radium every day that they went to work. These are their stories  and their fight for justice. A compelling and an essential read.
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A sobering look at the lives and struggles (both medical and legal) of the "Radium Girls", factory workers in the early decades of the 20th century exposed to radioactive material on a daily basis, while being told it was safe and even healthy.  Moore does an excellent job of tracing the times the women lived in, and the myriad attempts at cover-ups and the struggle for justice and acknowledgment of corporate responsibility against workplace dangers.  In the end, the Radium Girls' triumph in the courts makes for a story of power reclaimed by the workers.  Recommended for historians, feminists, and medical and legal enthusiasts.
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Despite assurances from their employers, radium was not safe for these girls to work with and in some cases ingest. They are mostly poor working class girls that feel like they've hit the proverbial lottery and bask in being known as the "shining girls" until years pass and they all start suffering from terrible illnesses. In the time of World War 1 and the years after that these girls painted watch faces and airplane instruments so that they would glow in the dark. The fact that it took years before anyone connected the fact that radium was indeed dangerous is surprising to me. The story follows two sets of women one in New Jersey and the other group in rural Illinois. Just as the New Jersey girls are getting very sick, you watch the whole story play out again from the beginning in Illinois. 

Eventually, some of the surviving girls decided to take the company to court, and this is where the book really took off for me. Like a 1920's Law and Order episode the company and the doctors who worked for them continued to lie and cover up their wrongdoings. These girls were looking for money to pay their medical bills and maybe have some to leave their families as they all realized by that point that they were very sick indeed.

I would recommend this book to seventh and eighth-grade students and high school students and anyone else who hasn't read about these brave woman.

Footnote: It wasn't until 1979 that the courts found the successors of the original Radium Dial Factory liable for the clean-up costs at the old sites.
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Review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
On May 17, 2017 by Dawn

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like my last review, (and entirely unintentionally) The Radium Girls is another historical piece with a feminist angle, this time set in the last days of the industrial revolution.

Radium and its uses having been recently discovered, the excitement surrounding this new substance was matched only by our ignorance of it. It glows! In the dark! All by itself! This is amazing! What we didn’t know, of course, is that it’s poison, of the long, slow, torturous type.

In these pages are the story of the young women who found that out the hard way.

What I (for one) didn’t know is how much we as a society owe the memory of these poor, crumbling women. Years of legal battles, first to ensure Radium was listed as causing an “industrial illness” gaining protection for those working near it, and then for a pittance of compensation from a indifferent ex-employer. They fought and won, cementing the responsibility of employers to keep their workers safe. Even the women.

Finally, in death, or decades of living in frail bodies, still they gave more, as medical science studied, tested, poked and tracked their symptoms.

Without these women, many more would have died in industrial poisoning, but that’s not all. In later years science applied what we’d learned from studying them to all kinds of radiation, from the infamous Manhattan Project to the types of shielding used in nuclear reactors.

The Radium Girls is eminently readable, and is definitely going on my recommended reading list.

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