Cover Image: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls

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Member Reviews

Thanks to Net Galley,  source books, and Kate Moore  for this ARC.  I believe this book to be very truthful but disturbing look back at female workers in the radium plant. It keep me interested in the subject matter, and  interested in the women involved in the painting  with radium. Such an interesting story yet something you didn’t want to actually believe had happened. If you are a lover Of history this is a must read for you.
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The style of the book is not what I was originally expecting.  I was expecting more of a "story" format rather than a narrative.  It is still very interesting and the format doesn't detract from the narrative at all.
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I had never heard of the story of the Radium Girls until I found out about the book. Then I HAD to read it!  This is a very sad story, and it is hard to believe this actually happened to so many girls.  Reading Kate Moore’s words about how she found out about this story and the fact that she is British stands out to me.  She felt it was a story she needed to tell and she delivered!

**As this happened in the past and anything can be researched I don’t feel like any of what I am going to say in this review is a spoiler.

We get to know each of the girls featured and their lives. We also get to know the extreme pain and anguish they went through from suffering from the radium poisoning. Moore graphically depicts the way the girls suffer.  As I was reading, I wanted to tell them to stop the ‘lip, dip, paint’ that they were instructed to do!  They continued as they were told the radium was safe. They were even excited to see the radium on themselves as they left work and ‘glowed in the dark’. They even went dancing while the radium was on them.  Yes, the girls were naïve, but it was not their fault: They were young (some barely teenagers), impressionable and excited to get the highly sought after job of becoming a “Radium Girl”.

The villains are the companies and they are despicable as they knew radium was dangerous and they kept this fact a secret from the girls.  They did not care about the girls, it was just about making a dollar. The Radium Girls is a very hard book to read. It was not just the girls who were affected, but their families as well with the high medical bills.

The girls’ story continues as some go to court and fight a hard fought battle.  Their battle ended with changes to laws and more safeguards in the workplace for employees.

Kate Moore worked tirelessly to bring us this narrative non-fiction journey. Everything in the book is real, but written in this way you don’t ever want to put The Radium Girls down! It is well researched and she traveled all over the US learning about these girls and their lives.

Ms. Moore, you have made the Radium Girls proud by sharing their personal story with us.

There is a site dedicated to the novel and the Radium Girls. Do check it out, it’s the least we can do.

Special thanks to NetGalley for granting me a copy. The Radium Girls is recommended.
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Completely heartbreaking, yet inspiring. It took me some time to finish this one, as it was so incredibly heavy and painful to digest. The Radium Girls will stay engraved in my mind forever. "I wanted to showcase their shining spirits in a book that would tell their story - not just the famous professionals who had helped them."
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Recommended for anyone who wants to better understand the sacrifices made by American women at home during World War I.
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This was a very insightful and interesting book. The story of the Radium Girls is eye opening.  The author did an extraordinary job showing the strength of the girls even with all the suffering that they endured.  The disregard that business at that time had for their employees and the lack of laws to protect the employees shows how far society has come.  This book tells history of how the medical world, business and law are intertwined.  This is an amazing book that everyone should read.
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Starting in WWI and continuing until the 1930’s, there was big business in painting clock and instrument dials with radium. Two of the main factories were in New Jersey and Illinois. The painters that were hired were mainly young women and they were well paid for their work. To get the brush point to a fine tip, the girls would dip the brush in the radium, use their lips to create the point and then apply the paint. When some of the girls became ill, dentists and doctors were stupefied by the symptoms. No one knew the dangers of handling radium and even if they suspected, the truth was hidden. In fact, the two radium businesses had evidence of the dangers and lied to the girls. They assured them that painting radium dials was perfectly safe. 

Moore follows the cases of numerous young women who suffered horrifically from their exposure. The details of their ailments is gruesome and unnerving. Compounding the horror is the repeated actions of the companies to hide clear evidence, mislead their employees and cheat the sick and dying girls of any compensation. Not only is this eye-opening but the cases of a few of the women to get the companies to pay for some of their medical care, were historically significant and lead to important legislation. This is a significant book about a travesty of monumental proportions. It puts corporate greed center-stage. It’s a time when women were thankful for having a job. They didn’t question authority and believed what they were told. The danger of radiation poisoning was not understood and doctors and dentists were seeing symptoms they couldn’t explain. Even as the girls suffered, they were brave and stalwart rather than angry and vindictive. During this time in history, people were more accepting of their plight, less challenging of those in authority and laws were not as protective of workers’ rights. 

This nonfiction book uses documents, comments and personal recollections in presenting an account of the torturous suffering of many young women who thought they were lucky to have such a great job as a dial painter, using the fascinating, glowing radium. It’s a compelling documentation of deliberate lies and a coldness that one cannot fathom. How people can watch the suffering of others and continue to encourage them to put themselves at further risk is reprehensible. No one who reads this can fail to be shocked and horrified.  
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Heartbreaking!  This book will make you so mad yet you will not be able to put it down.  A true story of a dark time in America when companies lied to their employees and tried to deny the negative impact radium had on the human body.  sadly things like this are still happening in America but hopefully there is more support for workers than there was in the early 1900s.  I highly recommend this book to everyone!!
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We read this book for Book Club.  I couldn't bring myself to read past the first chapter, although I gave it a second try after discussing the merits of the book with other bookclub members.  All of us said it was a "tough read" for the subject matter.  I thought the book would be similar to "Girls of Atomic City" which was interesting to read and not too disturbing (although some of it was tough).  However, Radium Girls was too much for me -- as someone who makes my living writing analysis reports predicting "bad things happening", and how to prevent them, I knew that sticking radium coated paint brushes into your mouth was NOT A GOOD IDEA.  ONLY IF you have a stronger stomach for this sort of thing, I recommend the book, based on the book club's evaluation.
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Having read many wonderful reviews, it was an choice to pick up Moore’s tragic, real life story behind the young girls who painted radium on dials in the 1920s. Alas, I found myself wishing this subject matter had been as easy as the choice was to read. I’ve likely read thousands of books in my life and within the aforementioned books I’ve encountered countless deaths. It is fairly safe to assume most people ponder their own death, alongside the more macabre possibilites for the worst case scenario. Upon reading The Radium Girls, I have added a new type of death to the list of unimaginable horrors, radiation poisoning. Moore flawlessly captures the exuberant nature of youth surrounding these young vibrant workers, with the hope of their whole future still ahead of them. Previously receiving radiation training during my graduate research, I was physically cringing as the story transitioned into the girls beginning work in the radium factories. It is so hard to imagine a world in which the dangers of radiation are not known and radium was in fact thought to be a health boost. Moore weaved a story in which this relatively new substance could be perceived as magical, due to the glowing aftereffects and especially with so many influential individuals touting its benefits. Fairly quickly, these young women started presenting mysterious, terrible symptoms, eventually resulting in suffering a death beyond comprehension. Furthermore, infuriating is a vast understatement regarding the actions of the radium companies. I still cannot fathom how those men in charge could live with themselves, knowing that they had and were actively, in some cases, poisoning their workers. I can think of only a handful of books that have caused me to rant and rage for days after reading, and this topic might have superseded all others. Overall, The Radium Girls was one of the most difficult reads that I’ve ever encountered, however in literature that characteristic is far from synonymous with bad, often being quite the opposite. I’m so thankful Moore chose to tell the story of the The Radium Girls and the indescribable suffering they endured, alongside the relentless drive these women exhibited throughout their tragically shortened lives to reveal dangers of radium.
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This was an extremely sad account of the torment the women of the United States Radium Company had to endure to obtain justice for their wrongful poisoning. It’s a example of profits put before people and is heart rending. These women showed unbelievable courage in the face of adversity. This book was well written and researched. Be prepared to be saddened by the accounts of the anguish these women went through.
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Thanks to Netgalley for providing me an advanced ecopy of the book. This review is solely my opinionas an uncompensated reader. 

I was interested in this book because I first heard of the Radium Girls from my husband, an occupational health specialist. It is astounding the stuff people used to use for “health benefits” – like radium and mercury. The extensively researched story helped me get to know the women and their story much better. Their story is a landmark case in the field of industrial hygiene and what responsibilities companies have to protect their employees on the job.

Kate Moore London takes a huge amount of research and organizes it very well by date and location. The sections are Knowledge, Power, Justice. Because there are so many Radium Girls it is hard to remember who is who at first. I don’t know if the published version will have pictures or not.  I think that would be helpful.  
Sometimes London adds details that just don’t add to the story. “Later, she would marry the rather dashing Vicent L Porte, a man with piercing blue eyes who worked in advertising.” “She had married Hobart Payne, a tall, slender electrician who wore glasses, in 1922; she described him as a ‘fine husband.’ He was a man who told jokes and loved children; folks described him as a ‘very knowledgeable.’  These details and the choppiness of the words just got in the way. Editor, where art thou? Last one: “Pearl had thick dark hair and pale skin too, though she was rounder-faced and more full-figured than Catherine, and her hair was curly.”  

The terse writing does not measure up to Erik Larson, Bill Bryson, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other non-fiction writers I’ve enjoyed. “But, for Mollie, time it seemed was running out.” “Deposited inside the body, radium was the gift that kept on giving.”  “Flinn examined her elegant body carefully and took some blood.” “Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways.”  Let’s get beyond the sometimes sixth grade writing!

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say these women suffered greatly from the radium poisoning. I’m not going to go into as many details as London, but one spent a summer encased in plaster from her waist to her knees in the hope of keeping her body still. Jaw bones literally disintegrated and fell out with teeth. The women couldn’t heal from surgeries and teeth extractions and had open wounds. My heart went out to them. Besides the physical suffering, they had to fight the companies in the courts.  

Towards the middle of the story, the continual use of the word “girls” bothered me. These were strong working women. In discussing this with my husband, he said it was most likely the word the press used when covering the lawsuits of the ‘Radium Girls.’ It was the historical term. I decided to let that one slide.

The story of the Radium Girls is a compelling one. Better writing, editing, and fewer superfluous details would radiate brighter with the readers. (Sorry couldn’t help it.) 

A reader’s guide is included for potential book group discussions.
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I learnt a lot from this read! I tend to read significantly more fiction, than non-fiction. However, if more non-fiction was written like The Radium Girls - that would definitely change!

Kate Moore writes with genuine humor (often also with irony) about pretty horrific events. Just think of your jaw decomposing and falling apart - one of the many negative side events of working with radium on the manner of the Radium Girls. Yet, such a horrible image is tempered with humor, and Moore's descriptions of strong, independent, determined women that I couldn't help but relate to. You will be rooting for the Radium Girls from their first introduction. 

 I would recommend this read to anyone who likes history or humor, or even just a good story about justice.
Was this review helpful?  .    I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley for an honest review. This nonfiction account of horrific results from young girls working with radium paint and putting the paintbrushes in their mouths is a sad and upsetting story.the author tells the stories of many of the young ladies working in the factories. They were all told to “dip and point” which is dipping the brush in the paint and pointing it with your mouth to get a fine point. The story follows the decline and eventual horrendous deaths of the young ladies. Everyone lied to them!  Finally, after many deaths and years of suffering., they found a lawyer who helped them sue the company.  The results of the lawsuit changed all our lives forever...
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I loved the idea of this book, but it dragged on and on until I finally stopped about halfway through.
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This is a well researched book. There is a lot of data in this book. It shows the lives and sufferings of many women and their families, friends  through many years, Lots of information about doctors, lawyers and leaders of the factories as well. (three locations) Although the characters lived almost a century ago, we are given a lot of details. The book reads like a diary.
The message for today's reader is clear : political and industrial leaders are not willing to accept scientific truth if it is in the way of their business. No matter how many lives are lost, they deny facts and care about nobody except themselves and their corporation. Unfortunately several "scientists', in this case doctors are willing to support them for their own personal gain. A horrible, but true story.
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Subtitled  "the Dark Story of America's Shining Women", the title is sufficient to spark fear - of content, of just how shocking this story can be, of more abuse against women. You get the picture.

I've read quite a dose of non-fiction lately, and this stands out.

It's not that difficult to read. Ok, some reviewers have commented that it's not a quick and easy read, and it isn't. Reading about radium poisoning was always going to be an experience for which you wanted some interruptions. But I loved the way that Kate Moore personalised these stories. She owned each one. It felt like she had tea with them, their families, their neighbours, and she understood the inflections, the uniqueness of each powerful story, and most importantly, the character of the woman who should have been alive to tell it herself.

As should be the case with a good historical account too, you should learn something about what you're reading. I hadn't realised that not only was radium not considered dangerous in those times - it was only good for you - the green juice of the times, as it were.

I couldn't read enough of these women's powerful stories, I couldn't put the book down, and I was enthralled by every minute.
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Both as an attorney and in my past life as a journalist, I learned how to research. I also discovered two often overlooked keys in researching a subject, ones I tried to pass on to new attorneys.  The first is that you often can research forever so you need to learn when to stop diving into rabbit holes.  The second -- and more important -- is that you don't need to use everything your research uncovered. Providing an inordinate amount of information hurts more than it helps.

Failure to observe the latter precept decidedly cripples Kate Moore's The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. The book is a meticulous examination of what happened to dozens of young women who painted watch dials.  Over the years, they would be given a number of nicknames.  The Ghost Girls. The List of the Doomed. Women Doomed to Die.  And in February 1938 they named their own group The Society of the Living Dead. The names came from the radium in the luminous paint they applied to dozens of watch and instrument dials a day. 

Moore, a British author, delves into the story of these women, their horrendous illnesses and their fight for justice. It's a tale of corporate callousness and almost criminal deceit, as well as the lag between scientific advances and the law. Unfortunately, it is a narrative that is overwhelmed by people and details.

Two companies are the villains.  Prior to World War I, Radium Luminous Materials Corp. opened a watch dial factory in Newark, N.J.  (It would later move to Orange, N.J., and become the United States Radium Corp.) After the war, the Radium Dial Company opened in Ottawa, Ill., about 85 miles southwest of Chicago.  By applying paint containing radium the numbers on the dials would glow in the dark, leading Radium Luminous Materials to call its paint "Undark." Some of the numbers were as small as a millimeter in width, so the delicate work called for nimble, dexterous hands.  As a result, the painters usually were women and a majority were teenagers.  
Three words summarize what gave rise to their eventual predicament. Lip. Dip. Paint. 

To ensure a fine point at the end of their brush, the women used a technique called lip-pointing. Throughout the day they would twirl the brush in their mouth to form a point, dip it in the paint and apply the paint to the numbers. This process also moistened any radium that hardened on the brushes. How often each worker lip-pointed each day was reflected in their earnings.  Paid on a piecework basis averaging 1.5 cents per watch, the average painter took home $20 a week ($370 today) and the fastest sometimes earned $2,080 a year (almost $40,000 today). 
A critical factor in this approach was that radium was considered a wonder drug at the time.  When the first plant opened, radium was used to treat everything from cancer to gout to constipation. Dozens of radium-laced products, such as lingerie and cosmetics, even enemas, were on the market. Thus, rather than being warned of any dangers, the girls were told that, if anything, they would benefit from their exposure to radium.  
But dozens slowly developed unusual physical problems.  Complaints of intractable pain in the jaw was common.  Teeth were removed in an attempt to alleviate the pain but not only did the pain remain, the holes left by the extractions didn’t heal. They would form ulcers and abscesses, which would also being showing up in other parts of their mouths. As this progressed, jaw bones would break by simply applying pressure with a finger. They had  radiation poisoning, a disease unknown at the time but one that would produce a horrific death. 
The first dial-painter died in 1922. She was 24 and only a few months before quit the job she'd held since she was 19.  That and worker complaints led to various studies and investigations over the next couple years. Most, though, were conducted by industry experts and company doctors.  Moreover, the industry suppressed anything that might suggest radium paint was causing these problems.  The situation began drawing media attention when an employee in Orange, N.J., filed the first lawsuit over the condition in February 1925. On June 14, 1925, another female employee in New Jersey became the first dial-painter ever tested for the presence of radium. (Some wondered if it was merely coincidence that the test came a week after the first death of a male employee.) Her death four days later made the front page of the New York Times. 
Even more media attention was generated when the parties to the lawsuit were going to autopsy the dial-painter who died in 1924. When her body was exhumed five years after her death those present reported that "the inside of the coffin was aglow with the soft luminescence of radium compounds."  Every piece of tissue and bone examined during the autopsy was radioactive.
Yet not only did the industry aggressively fight the lawsuit and others, it did its best to suppress evidence that might support the claims.  Moreover, the fact radiation poisoning was essentially unknown when the women’s problems developed meant the law also was a roadblock.  All the suits were brought after the statutes of limitations expired for common law injury or workers compensation claims.  While both New Jersey and Illinois made some industrial diseases compensable under workers’ compensation, radiation poisoning wasn’t among them  Even if it was, those specific statutes of limitations also expired before the women’s conditions manifested themselves for years and before they knew the cause was occupational.
Given that the radiation poisoning appeared to be a death sentence, public outrage grew as the litigation dragged on and it appeared the radium girls had no remedy. Settlements were eventually reached in most of the cases, although at times it was only enough to cover medical and burial expenses.
Moore takes the reader through the effects on the women, the industry efforts to cover up any danger and the women’s struggle to find legal representation and a legal remedy.  The extent of the book's research is reflected in the fact it has nearly 1,500 footnotes. Yet Moore's failure to be more discriminating in using the research produces a significant downfall.
At its core, The Radium Girls is a fascinating story of women with horrendous medical conditions fighting dishonest corporations and law that had yet to recognize their plight.  But the core gets entangled in excess.  The book’s “List of Key Characters” contains nearly 70 names.  All of them -- and more -- are heard from over the course of the book, making it difficult to keep track of who is who.  This is exacerbated once the book begins jumping back and forth between people and lawsuits in New Jersey and Illinois. It feels like, having devoted so much time and effort to research and interviews, Moore feels obligated to include as much of it as possible.  This leaves an otherwise compelling tale adrift in a sea of information.
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I don't typically have a problem with my blood pressure, but reading this book got my blood boiling.

This well-researched non-fiction book takes a look at the dark side of a once-glowing industry.  During the first World War there was a demand for watches and clocks and other instruments with glowing dials.  The Radium Dial Company in New Jersey set up shop and become one of the biggest producers of glowing dials and numbers and hands for watches and clocks.  The glowing paint was made with a combination of phosphor and radium - a relatively new source (at least a new form of radium [with a half-life of 10,000 years - though that wasn't known at the time]).

The girls (women were hired, like with many jobs, because the men were serving in the military) were paid by the dial and precision was as important as speed and the girls were taught to take a fine brush, bring it to a tight point by using their lips, then dip in the phosphor/radium paint, and paint.  Repeat.  They were assured, time and again, that the paint was completely safe and they even laughed and played with the fact that they would glow in the dark themselves. And because they were paid by the dial, they often ate their lunches at their work table in order to be more productive.

This isn't a mystery, though...the reader knows what's coming.  Soon the girls start to experience unusual aches and pains.  Local doctors haven't seen these sorts of things and the wasting away of the girls is attributed to a number of things, including venereal disease. And when a death certificate says that the cause was from a sexual disease, it's pretty hard to pin it on the business and get due compensation from them.

Because the radium was ingested by the mouth it attacked the bones in the jaw first, in most cases (radium eats away from the inside and destroys bone tissue).  Therefore, it was often dentists who first noticed the effects and it was a specialist in New York City who really uncovered the problem.  And though that in itself was a long (and painful) process (too late for some), it was only the beginning of the problems workers at Radium Dial Company (and another plant in Illinois) would face.  Denial by the company owners and management continued long into and throughout legal processes.

And this is where my anger tuned in.

I wanted to get up and punch Radium Dial owners in the nose.  The lies, the deceit, the cover-up.  It all seemed so clear (in hindsight) that they knew (or at the very least suspected) that something in their materials was making their employees sick, but in usual corporate fashion - even in the 1920's and 30's - it was better to leave the women to fend for themselves and mount huge medical debts.

It is a heart-breaking story.  I can't imagine anyone reading it and not being moved by the plight of these women.  Author Kate Moore makes it personal - introducing us to the girls and letting us get to know them individually.

Moore builds this story nicely and we come to realize that what the girls ... and the world ... needs is a champion - someone to take up their cause and fight - to give them a small amount of relief and to help change the laws for the future.

You'll have to read this to see how it turns out.  It's a powerful read and there aren't many happy endings here, given the nature of the story, but it's something that should be read.

Looking for a good book? <em>The Radium Girls</em> by Kate Moore is a powerful story of young women facing death by industrial poisoning and their efforts to stay alive, be compensated, and ensure this doesn't happen again.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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A deeply moving story about the girls that painted watch dials with radium. Just a fascinating part of our history.
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