Cover Image: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls

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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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The Radium Girls is an unforgettable and heart-wrenching account of girls who painted dials for watches and instrument panels with radium-based paint during the early 1900s. Because of corporate greed, these girls weren’t told that radium was dangerous to their health, even after it was proven detrimental and extremely poisonous. This book is the account of their fight for recognition that their terrible health problems and deaths were caused by the radium. The author does a creditable job of telling their story, although I feel it could have been condensed a little. The many people involved in the story made it a little confusing. All in all, it’s a very interesting account of a little-known part of our country’s history.
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own
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This is a heart-wrenching book that I had to walk away from several times. These women suffered more than any human being should have to endure.

It is not a light read, but I highly recommend it.
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In conclusion: do not put radium near mouth. In fact, do not put radium near the body. At all. Ever. *Shudder*

A fascinating but also disturbing history of a time when people were only just beginning to understand that radium wasn't safe and the women whose lives were destroyed by radium poisoning they got from their jobs.
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Sourcebooks and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women.  I was under no obligation to review this book and my opinion is freely given.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a look at the young women who gave up their health and, some of them, their lives, to use luminescent paint in radium-dial factories.  The miniscule amount of radium powder that they mixed into the paint settled like a fine dust on their clothing, their food, and their bodies, yet their employers kept the secret about the potential harm of the product.  Instructed to put the paintbrushes into their mouths to pull the finest line of paint, the women were unaware of the danger.  When the young women started to become ill, it seemed that no one outside of their families were willing to help.  In an industry whose profits were skyrocketing due to the war, the owners of the companies in question were loathe to part with a single cent.  Through their pain, suffering, and death, the radium girls were responsible for helping to create safer work environments and laws that have stood the test of time.

The Radium Girls is an eye-opening book about the unsafe working conditions that existed well past World War I.  In the author's zeal to humanize the young women, however, she loses focus on what they stood for.  Many women gave their lives for an industry that turned its back on them.  They fought to be noticed, to be helped, and to help others not suffer needlessly.  The author spent too much time discussing their hopes for marriage and their dreams of children.  This was an important part of their lives, but the point to the book was to discuss the women in the larger context of their working lives and how the system failed them.  Regardless, I did gain a fair amount of new information because of the book and I would recommend it to readers who are unfamiliar with the subject matter.
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I am voluntarily submitting my honest review after receiving an ARC of this ebook from NetGalley.

The Radium Girls is so brilliantly awful that it is a must read for everyone, regardless of your preferences in genre. This is the story of the outright murder of young women in the pursuit of profit. Despite mountains of evidence proving that radium is a dangerous substance, young women were told it was safe to paint watch dials with it with no protection at all. The workers are even tested for radiation poisoning, with their results sorted by those most likely to die first, yet the women are not informed of these test results. In one of the most memorable scenes painted, a young worker even licks the brush she uses to paint radium onto watch dials to increase her accuracy as instructed! The crime itself is so shocking that if the author gets a little too passionate in the hard sell of the disgusting callousness of the corporate executioners of these workers at times, it is easy to forgive her. This book is a haunting account of the price these women paid for corporate greed and a shocking account of the depths of depravity humans are capable of sinking to in pursuit of the almighty dollar. It is a book that should linger long after reading it as a powerful reminder to humanity of what can so easily happen again if we relax our guard in this era of willful abandon of regulation designed to protect us from such depravity, deceit and greed. BUY THIS BOOK!!!
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I loved this book, but it took me months to get through. The book is beautifully researched and goes into great depth of the true life events. The author weaves a very intriguing narrative that kept me engaged for the entirety of the book. All of the women had such compelling stories and the author really brought each and everyone to life convincingly. However, this book took me such a long time to get through. Not because it's not a great book, more because the subject matter is difficult and at times graphic. The women who worked in these factories had severe medical issues due to the toxic materials they were working with. This is not an easy beach read, but it is an amazingly researched and beautifully written book- I highly recommend it.
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An impressively and deeply researched and beautifully written book. Although it was packed with historical and scientific information, the human interest material was full of empathy and personal details that made the young women come to life. This book serves as a frightening cautionary tale during these times of careless deregulation of industrial safety standards and as a testament to the fact that corporate greed has long been part of American society. Because there were so many young women affected by this terrible chapter of our history, the narrative did seem a bit repetitive at times, but it just served to underscore the fact that the horrible effects of the radium were fairly consistent, yet corporations and corrupt officials were amazingly able to deny the reality of what was happening. I highly recommend this book. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance e-copy of the book. I also had the pleasure of hearing the author, Kate Moore, speak at Book Expo, and her passion for the topic came through equally clearly then.
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Rating: 4/5

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction

Recommended Age: 13+ (some mature scenes)

I received a free e-book copy of this book from NETGALLEY in exchange for my honest review. This did not influence my decision in any way.

The incredible true story of the women who fought America's Undark danger
The Curies' newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these "shining girls" are the luckiest alive ― until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women's cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America's early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers' rights that will echo for centuries to come.
Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the "wonder" substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives… -
While I enjoy fantasy so so much, I do enjoy reading about historical events. I actually used to be a history major! So I was very excited to receive an ARC of this book on NETGALLEY! Thanks Sourcebooks! Anyways, when I read it I was expecting the dry history books of my college days… but I was highly impressed by this book! Not only was it totally engaging, but it was very educational without being pushy (which is pretty rare for some books especially for younger children). What really made this book was the character development. The characters in this book seem to just come alive and you really become invested in these characters and their plight. The writing is superb and is extremely enjoyable as well.

However, while I am freshly out of college I did try to keep in mind how this book would be for younger children, especially those that would pick this book up for a book report. Keeping that in mind, I did find that the pacing was a bit slow and that the plot was a bit drawn out because of it. However, very enjoyable book, very educational book, and very inspirational book because while this is a book about women who were poisoned by the radium fad it does show the strength of these women who could be a role model to many.
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This was an absolutely fantastic review of a little known historical event. As a scientist, I think it is very important to read these stories and understand how far our safety standards have come. I've recommended this to many friends since I completed it.
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Horrifying that companies could knowingly endanger workers lives and not be held responsible under the law.  I was heartsick with how short, painful and scary the lives of the radium girls were.  These girls who painted dials with glow in the dark radium for war planes and watches would suddenly become ill sometimes within a few months and sometimes within a few years of working there.  Their teeth would start to fall out and the holes would not heal and then pieces of their jaw would start to disintegrate and fall off.  Their joints would lock up or their bones would hurt and start to break on their own or start growing cancerous growths.  And the companies would try to blame it on women hysterics or bad hygiene or STDs.  Totally despicable.  Thanks to these women who stood up to the establishment, workers have the protections that they do today.  The author introduces you to each of the affected women and as a reader, you start to care deeply about these women due to all the personal antidotes the author tells you about them. And since radium poisoning is incurable, most of these women die slow, painful deaths.  This book will haunt you long after you read it.  

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  

I received a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalkey for review consideration.
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“The company,” said one girl, “always led us to believe everything was under control and safe, but I don’t think they cared.” from The Radium Girls by Kate Moore.

My first encounter with the Radium Girls was from Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook so I was thrilled when I discovered that I’d get the chance to read The Radium Girls through NetGalley. Kate Moore’s handling of the topic is passionate but not indulgently so. If handled too emotionally the story would read like a contemporary newspaper article. Rather, Moore effectively offers us deep insight into the individual lives which were swept up into corporate bottom lines. The background is of course that radium’s discovery resulted in human awe, curiosity and eventually developed into an enormous business. Initial studies demonstrated what people interpreted as healthful effects but over time and by 1901 there was enough evidence to indicate that at the very least radium was something which should be handled with caution. However, the industry cut corners and the glowing properties of radium provided a usefulness during war time which resulted in enormous profits and a need for workers. Moore elegantly delves into many of the finer points which surround the greater narrative.
Although the book can be summarized as a testament to worker’s rights and the tenacity of workers in the shadow of corrupt business Moore puts the spotlight on the individuals whose lives were shadowed. For me this is what made the book. What Moore and the Radium Girls worked so hard to make a point of is that it isn’t right for good people to work hard, contribute to society and then be treated as disposable commodities when the hard work also has debilitating effects on the bodies and lives of the workers. 
I don’t want to spoil the book too much even though and maybe especially because it is nonfiction. But I appreciated that Moore didn’t just cover the court battles and their eventual resolution, she delved deeper into the further reaching consequences (namely that radium’s half-life is 1,666 years and therefore it continues to effect the communities who played host to the radium companies). The book is a reminder and a call to educate advocate—which it seems is a timeless and universally relevant message.
By focusing on the titled Radium Girls, Moore shows the reader what bravery is and how advocacy cannot be effective when it is focused on short terms selfish goals because in fact it was the short term, selfish goals of the radium companies which robbed many young girls of their lives even as they gave them over in service to family, community and the hope of bettering their lives.
Despite being a difficult read emotionally, the writing is wonderful and I found it difficult to put it down. This is a vitally important read for everyone.
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This is quite a story. In the 1920s radium was the element of the moment. Because it had been discovered to have tumor-shrinking properties, people assumed it would promote health. They drank irradiated water among other things. People also loved the iridescent, illuminating qualities of radium. They painted the numbers on watch dials with radium paint so that people could have luminescent watches. The watch dials were painted by armies of young female workers. While dial painting was a sought-after job, the women paid a high price. Radium got in their bones, and attacked them from the inside out. Their bones started disintegrating. They grew tumors. Their teeth started falling out, and their jawbones did too. For years their conditions befuddled doctors. 

While part of the book is dedicated to describing the work and the workers' ailments, much of it is devoted to recounting the workers' search for justice. But justice would not be quick, or easy. Long before they informed the workers, executives at large radium companies were aware that radium was dangerous, and was killing workers. Instead of informing workers and taking precautions, the radium companies did everything they could to silence and discredit scientific information, and hide the results of medical examinations. The level of deceit was tremendous. 

This is a story of corporate greed, worker abuse, and worker resistance. This is definitely a story that needs to be told. Moore has done a great deal of research, and she writes with tremendous sympathy for the workers. There are parts of this book that felt quite repetitive. I felt like I was reading some of the same material over and over. Some tightening could probably improve the book. That said, it is an important story and one that Moore tells with interest and sympathy.
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If there's one thing I love, it's true history with gross medical details. Add in an uphill legal battle and women fighting for justice, and I'm in heaven. I already knew the basic story of the radium girls, and I was fascinated by them, so when I saw this on NetGalley it was an instant request - but I wasn't entirely convinced that this book would tell me much more than I already knew. 

How wrong I was. 

Moore delves into the personal lives of these women, giving them each distinct personalities and emphasising their humanity. The recollections of their surviving family members bring each woman to life - which makes their fate all the more tragic.

To my gruesome delight, Moore also doesn't shy away from detailing the horrific effects radium has on each woman, from rotting jaws and teeth to tumours and amputations. If you're squeamish, there are parts you may want to skip; but PLEASE don't let it put you off this book entirely because this is a powerful story that needs to be told (the epilogue is a depressing reminder of how easily we forget, and once again prioritise profit over human lives).

I was engrossed in this book from the first page to the last. The writing never drags, even when the story turns to the endless legal battles for compensation. It's popular history done very, very right.
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"Radium Girls" is such an important book for so many reasons.  It tells the story of a group of women factory workers whose job was to paint dials on watches using radium.  They were told the paint was harmless and put the radium-laden  brushes in their mouth in order to get a more exact brush tip.  As it turned out, the paint was anything but harmless and the USRC, (United States Radium Corporation), their employers, was aware of the dangers.  In fact, their employers went out of their way to conceal the dangers from their workers, causing unnecessary health issues, and, in many cases, ultimately, death.
A group of the women affected were determined to bring the USRC to court and obtain justice for themselves and for those who came after.  They fought to sue their employers and were a were a breed to be admired and appreciated.  Thanks to these brave women, others did not have to suffer the same deadly consequences.  
Moore has you embark on the women's journey with them.  You feel the pain, determination and spirit of the women as their plight is so sensitively described in the book.  Kudos to the women and the author for achieving their goals.
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Radium was used to paint watch dials as well as in many beauty and health products marketed to the masses. When World War I broke out, the production of radium painted clocks rose and many more women became employed painting them. The common practice was to use one's mouth to smooth out the ends of the paint brush leading to many women ingesting lethal amounts of radium. The terrible thing was when the women were lied to and told that the radium was safe; then when they fell ill, nothing was done about it. The book made me feel angry, sad, and ready to fight, because they knew what they did to those women were wrong, yet they let it continue. I would recommend the  book to others.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an eARC of this book. 
This is a well researched, well written, amazing piece of non-fiction that traces the lives of the women who painted watch dials in the radium-dial factories. Few really knew the danger of radium poisoning and those who did certainly weren't telling. It shows the strength and tenacity of these women who lived in the early 1900s when women were not expected to take the lead in tracking down and stopping the abuses that were occurring. This is a book that needs to be read. I found it slow going because it became overwhelming but definitely worth the read.
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Very well written story!  The author was able to portray the characters' feelings so well and the degree of information provided was good.  I for one, had not heard about this tragedy until reading this book.  Thank you for taking on this project so that these women are not forgotten.
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