Cover Image: The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls

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Member Reviews

These true stories about the radium poisoning suffered by workers, almost all women, in the clock and instrument making industry's early days tell the sad story of workplace dangers and the consequences of not knowing or accepting the hazards. The Radium Girls also relates one of the earliest cases of employers being held responsible for not protecting their workers. Their tragic stories influenced the laws in this country to better protect workers.
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I managed to finish this book in one of my off days because it was absolutely gripping and once again, I'm shocked by how little I know (everyone should know about this!)

During WWI, there were radium companies that employed girls (often teenagers or just out of their teens!) to paint dials with radium. The pay was by piece, which meant that the very skilled could take home quite a lot, and the girls quickly grew to be very close. Plus, America was in the midst of a radium craze where anything radium was considered to be healthy. So the fact that this girls were in contact with so much radium they glowed in the dark was an added bonus, right?


Radium is a radioactive substance and prolonged exposure to it killed many of these girls. The deaths were slow and painful, as their bones crumbled and they developed cancer (many of the girls' jawbones broke and their wounds wouldn't heal). The radium poisoning was made worse by the fact that these women used their mouths to help shape the brushes that were dipped in radium. So not only were they covered in radium, they were ingesting it! And because radium was so new and there was so little research, the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with them at first. When they did, however, the company that employed them denied all responsibility and did their best not to pay them compensation.

But these women were brave and tenacious, despite all the pain they were in, and they fought the companies in the courts and basically helped change safety standards, laws, and raised awareness of the dangers of radium. Oh, and their work helped saved the lives of soldiers during the war so they were basically heroes many times over.

The radium girls is an engrossing, well-written book that focuses on the girls and their stories. The author has clearly done a lot of research, and she has managed to tell the story of the individual girls without losing sight of the broader picture. Although the book is fairly long, it felt short and I just couldn't put it down. I'd recommend this to EVERYONE because it is a story that needs to be heard.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.
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This is the one non-fiction book of 2017 that everyone needs to read.
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Kate Moore’s well-researched true story tells us of the lives of the “shining girls” condersided the luckiest girls alive to have found the most coveted jobs using the “wonder” substance radium to paint dials.  We learn of their feelings of joy, excitement, and independence at having such glamorous jobs, to them becoming ill and their bodies starting to deteriorate and then some to their deaths.  To others realizing their jobs are causing their illness, to their fight against the companies and their legal battles and then for some realizing they are going to die.  
Moore doesn’t shy away from the vivid details of the agonizing deaths and suffering the women went through and it’s not for the faint hearted.  I think that might be me as I found the torment they went through relentless and their agonizing suffering and the deaths after deaths started to become too overwhelming for me.  Some of what I was reading just became a blur to me and at times I just wanted to get through the book.  
As much as the girls suffering broke my heart, the greed, dishonesty and the refusal to protect the young women from the danger was shocking and angered me. 

I think Radium Girls was one of the most unsettling books I have read and even though I did not enjoy it, I am glad I read it.  The courage and tenacity of the women is an important story that needed to be told and Kate Moore is remarkable to have told it and honoring the women and their deaths by doing so.  

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher Sourcebooks for a copy to read and review.
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t's the early twentieth century, radium has just been discovered and is touted as a miracle and wonder drug of sort. It can be found in everyday products such as lotion and tonic water but this element hides it's secret and the young women who work in the radium-dial factors are to become it's victim of a horrible, painful death.

A dial painting factory opens up in different parts of the United States. It pays well and many young women jump at the opportunity for work. It's simple enough they used brushes to put  luminescence onto dials of watches using a practice of lip pointing. This practice of putting the brush in between you lips to make the end pointy before painting the dials results in countless deaths.

The company knew that radium wasn't a safe element, yet they reassured works over and over again that they would not be harmed. Women who worked for the company began experiencing a variety of issues most of them started with an unbearable pain in the jaw. Treatment made things worse and eventually pieces of the jaw would break off. Women's bodies were ravaged with tumors depending on where radium settled in the body and bones.

The company denied responsibility and lawsuits unfolded. Read Moore's "The Radium Girls" to learn about this seemingly forgotten piece of US history. Be prepared to be angry and feel anguish for the victims and their family members.

Moore has done an excellent job of re-accounting the life stories from the women who were harmed extensively by radium. This book is well researched and easy to read!
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This book is harrowing, inspiring, almost unreal, and superbly written. I found myself reading the book super quickly and could not believe this little bit of history I knew absolutely nothing about. These women were... amazing and yet in the midst of a terrifying and changing world. The language is up front, familiar, and easy to read... but also full of emotion and reality while still feeling like a story.
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A horrifying but true story of girls who painted with radium and were never told of the extreme danger of working with this radioactive substance. Despite their bodies literally falling apart and the excruciating pain they were constantly in (many of the girls literally had their jaw bones fall out of their heads), the girls persisted against a corporation and a legal system that had little to no care for them, often labeling the girls as having STDs and submitting them to public shame instead of admitting they were radioactive. Despite everything, they persisted.
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This narrative in this book is a bit inconsistent, but the incredibly compelling story makes it worth reading.  Prepare to be angry at the greed of corporate America.
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"According to the author, there have only been two other biographies written about the struggle of the collective “Radium Girls” to fight for justice from their unsafe working conditions, but none of them really told the stories of the girls beyond their “anonymous moniker.”"

That is what Kate Moore sought to do.

The tone of The Radium Girls reminded me a little of Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures (mini-review here). In both, the authors sought to add a personal touch to each of these women’s lives as they told of their struggles to be heard. Hidden Figures gives an account of the women instrumental in working toward breaking the color barrier to be taken seriously as mathematicians, not only at NASA but across the nation. The Radium Girls tells of a brave group of women fighting to be heard (and believed) that they were suffering and dying from deadly radium poisoning, and their battles through the courts to get compensation for their growing medical debts.

The author held little back in describing some of the medical conditions of these women. Not for the squeamish. The horrors these women had to go through – losing their teeth, their jaw bones literally cracking and falling out in pieces, and the constant pain (in backs, knees, arms, feet, etc.) – is quite literally terrifying.

And even through their suffering, they fought. They fought for justice for themselves, for their friends, for their sisters. And, eventually, they won.

"“I always admired their strength,” said Catherine Donohue’s great niece, “to stand up and unite.”
And, united, they triumphed. Through their friendships, through their refusal to give up and through their sheer spirit, the radium girls left us all an extraordinary legacy. They did not die in vain.
They made every second count."

Although not an easy fight, the “Radium Girls” prevailed, in the end.

Even though many of the girls did not live long enough to get their own personal justice, their strength and resilience through their countless lawsuits provided safe working conditions for others who came after them, like those working on the Manhattan Project.

"An official of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) wrote: “If it hadn’t been for these dial-painters, the [Manhattan] project’s management could have reasonably rejected the extreme precautions that were urged on it and thousands of workers might well have been, and might still be, in great danger.” The women had been, officials say, “invaluable.”"

This story is hard to hear, but it is a story that must be told so that history does not repeat itself.

It was horrifying to read to what lengths some companies would go through to keep themselves afloat, putting profit before their own loyal workers, and how willfully malicious they could be. NEVER should a company put their profits above the health and safety of their employees. It’s despicable.

Even as the men in charge learned of the dangers of radium, they refused to believe (or admit) that it was harmful to their employees, and thus refused to implement costly safety precautions to improve working conditions. Many of these cases could have been prevented if upper management had cared more about their workers’ safety.

But, hindsight is 20/20.

This was a really interesting read, and I think the author did a great job of incorporating some of the personal triumphs of the girls – friendships, marriages, children – with the harsh realities the girls were facing. Even though I knew the general outcome, the way the author wrote and organized the chain of events made me care about these girls from the past and learn how they got justice and recompense.

They suffered from radium poisoning, they fought a groundbreaking case, and they ultimately prevailed and found justice, though not in time to benefit all those girls affected.It is a powerfully resounding story of determination even in the face of adversity, and it's a story that needs to be told.

I’d give this book an overall rating of 4.5/5 stars for the quality of writing and bringing to light the historical significance of these strong girls who fought so hard for justice. Thank you to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS (non-fiction) for a copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity to read this ARC of The Radium Girls.

I picture myself as a girl in my young twenties.  The men are away, our country is in a time of war.  And then I picture myself getting this INCREDIBLE job painting watch dials in a factory with my close friends and sisters at the Radium facility.  This is a coveted job that pays well, especially considering the current circumstances.  Not to mention it's fun!  Me and my co workers laugh and joke as we twirl the paint brush between our lips, dip it into radium powder, and paint away.  The glow that comes from our bodies after a long day of work makes us feel pretty, exciting and so lucky to have such an exclusive job.

And then I picture myself wondering why I have pain in my teeth and jaw.  My joints aren't what they used to be, but I'm only twenty three.  My friends all seem to be either losing weight, worrying about forming lumps in their bodies, or just overall feeling sickly.  The Radium factory swears that there is no harm in working with the Radium paint, and that the "lip/dip" technique really is the most effective way to paint those dials.

Oh my goodness, what a read!  I feel as though I've climbed a mountain.  This is a portion of our history that I had never heard of.  It also makes me so appreciative of our modern day laws that serve to protect employees and INFORM them when something is potentially harmful.  I can't even imagine what those poor girls, who had such youth and promise, went through to help our country form those laws.
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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore

"What radium means to us today is a great romance in itself, but what it may mean to us tomorrow, no man can foretell." -- Dr. Sabin von Sochocky, founder of the Radium Luminous Material Corporation.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a powerful and heart-breaking story about seventeen young girls who worked in radium-dial painting factories in the early 1900's where they painted luminous dials on watches and clocks.  The teenagers felt they had landed a glamorous job of a lifetime while others were jealous of their high wages and the fact that they glowed like heavenly beings or angels.

Everyone was told radium was healthy, some would say a miracle, and they were encouraged to drink it to cure many illnesses.  Soon it would be discovered by many of the scientists working with radium that the “Liquid Sunshine” could indeed be very dangerous.

Katherine Schaub was trained by twenty-year-old Mae Cubberly. Using very fine paintbrushes, she instructed Katherine in the technique that all of the dial painters were taught. Lip-pointing: putting the brushes in their mouths to make the tip finer, a technique learned from girls who formerly worked in china-painting factories. Mae even lets her know that the radium would not hurt them, if anything it would be beneficial. Lip…Dip…Paint.

When working in the “darkroom,” Katherine would call in workers, and could see the signs of the luminous paint on the worker, on the clothes, on the lips, on face and hands, shining. The girls painted on left over paint and went in the darkroom to see it glow and laugh at the results. 

Demand increased with the war. The company opened a plant in Orange, New Jersey, not too far from the Newark factory. The company expanded right into the middle of a residential neighborhood, and some of the new workers hired lived there. 

In the early 1920s, some girls left the radium company. Some of the girls began to complain of being tired and having mysterious and unrelenting pains. (Keep in mind that the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was only ratified in 1920. In a world dominated by men, these mysterious illnesses were cast off as frivolous, “women’s complaints.”)

Heartbreaking as it is, these stories are about women, who though physically weakened, found the strength and determination to do what needed to be done. Their buried skeletons
contain radium which will continue to glow for 1,600 years.

This is a well-researched story.  I had never heard of the Radium Girls, but this compelling non-fiction account of another era is a book I could not put down. I was caught up in the evolution of the rights of the average worker, but especially those working women whose voices they tried to suppress and invalidate.

I received an ARC from netgalley in exchange for the promise of a fair review.

Patricia Keefe
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4+ Stars.  Whew!  What a gut-wrenching read...and fight...for truth and justice.  

We start with a short eerie prologue from 1901, and soon see the chilling...never to be forgotten phrase:  Lip...Dip...Paint - - - Such Frightening Words!

THE RADIUM GIRLS is a truly shocking non-fiction read about women in the 1920's who were hired to paint watch dials with a luminous and deadly substance.  Young, naive and conscientious, the shining girls kept lip-dipping and painting to achieve that precise point even when symptoms of tooth and jawbone loss became the norm....even when mouth sores would not heal....they needed to support their families....they trusted their employer.

The shining substance was safe after-all, "the local paper had declared: Radium may be eaten, it seems that in years to come we shall be able to buy radium tablets----and add years to our lives!"  But that was not one wealthy man discovered..."The radium water worked fine until his jaw came off."

One agonizing death after another is described here...right along with a multitude of corporate lies, cover-ups and acts of medical fraud, but...finally....after long fought court battles, painful deaths and body exhumations, safety standards resulted that saved future generations of workers....even the deceased contributed to science. 

Historically informative and unsettling read.  Check out some of the old "glowing" advertisements AND the story behind The Radium Girls Bronze statue erected in Ottawa, Illinois.

Many thanks to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS for the free ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.
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Engaging story of young women who got radium poisoning through their jobs as dial painters. I had never heard of this, but was horrified by the abuse and lack of caring that these workers got from their employers
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In the early part of the twentieth century the newly discovered element Radium was seen as a panacea.  Viewed to be health giving and safe tiny amounts of radium were used in treatments and tonics across the world.  One use in America was as a paint on watch and instrument dials where the luminosity enabled them to be read in the dark.  As the US entered WW1 the demand was high but painting dials was a skilled job and in Orange, New Jersey, a highly-paid female workforce carried out the delicate task.  In order to be accurate they had to point their brushes between their lips, ingesting small amounts of radium, but that was OK, they were told over and over again that radium was safe.  That was until the girls started to get sick...

Having heard the author speak on a recent broadcast I was fascinated by this story and the book did not disappoint.  The tale of the radium girls of New Jersey and Illinois is tragic but Moore elevates this non-fiction book beyond just a straight treatise.  The reader is given lots of biographical information about these young women and the devastating effects of radium on them.  The point isn't laboured but it is clear that they were dismissed over and over again because they were not important in the scheme of things, radium brought huge profits and these were working class women.  I felt that Moore's handling of the macro-politics was understated and all the more insightful because of that.  This is a poignant and very moving book about ignorance and the consequences of corporate attitudes.
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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is an incredible story about the women who worked in America's watch dial factories applying glow-in-the-dark paint and the journey they went on when it became clear how unsafe their working conditions were over time.

A story comparable to Erin Brockovich but set in the 1920s, Kate Moore did a wonderful job walking the reader through the early years of the women featured in the story and providing the context for how a group of talented young women ended up having to some true corporate villains.

The story read like fiction.  Some of the things that happened to the Radium girls as they fought for basic health care and compensation from a company the harm they were inflicting on human beings were unbelievable.  

While the subject of the story was not as uplifting as Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, the engaging writing style and wonderful story telling reminded me of her brand of historical fiction and I think fans of her work (who are prepared for a less optimistic story) would enjoy this book.

I would absolutely suggest this book for anyone interested in history, historical fiction (even thought this is a true story!) and workers rights.
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I'm a sucker for little chunks of history that mean something in a bigger context; it's probably why I'm addicted to all retellings of the Bletchley Park story. And that's how I feel about the Radium Girls -- it's a story I already know from The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, and found fascinating there, but I find it to have endless depths and nuances, and so I jumped for a more in-depth exploration (and I would again.)

With a backdrop of WWI, luminosity of watchfaces is a matter of life and death for soldiers. Fortunately, radioactive elements have recently been discovered, so women are paid to use radium to paint watch dials. Unfortunately, working with radium is a matter of life and death for the dialpainters...but no one seems to notice or care. It's a story about chemistry and the dual roles of chemical utility and chemical toxicity make in our lives. It's a story about feminism, and how women joined the workforce and were let in only around the edges. It's a story about our workplace rights that is still relevant in modern times -- after all, it directly led to the development of OSHA. It's a story about medical mysteries and how doctors work through tracing disparate symptoms to a single underlying disease. It's a stunningly apropos tale of a society that does not care for the weak in its ranks and bankrupts them through their efforts to obtain medical care for societal-inflicted wounds.

Kate Moore wanted more than that: she wanted a story that was really about the individual dialpainters, and to that end (according to the introduction, at least), she painstakingly interviews the families and friends of dozens of them. She wants them to be real people, rather than symbols. It's a deeply admirable goal. And it completely fell flat for me. By including what feels like at least 100 named dialpainters, I felt the impact was actually lessened, because I never got attached to any of them. Each has a tragic story, but it's really the same tragic story. So reading pages of "Jane Doe was a dialpainter. She loved her beautiful dress and her winning smile. She was dating John Doe. She was friends with other dialpainters, Sarah and Sally. They all lip-pointed, just like they were taught. Then her teeth starting falling out. They thought she had phosphorus jaw, but she didn't. Then she died. Mary Smith was a dialpainter..." got very (very, very) tedious. And then, honestly, I just got inured -- once I knew every character introduced would die within 10 pages, I stopped caring who their friends were, or who they were dating.

The latter parts of the book were better, especially the last part, where the book really focuses on a core group of painters from the Ottawa factor and the reader gets to know them and their personalities decently well. Even then, though, Moore tells us little about them except that they were "strong." The women never came alive for me. 

Overall, I loved the topic. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I learned, and talking to people about radium and how we can reflect on that era. I respect what Moore was trying to do. On the other hand, I didn't actually enjoy reading this book. I spent 8 weeks reading this book. I usually read a book every 10 days, so that says a lot. I dreaded picking it up and treated it like a chore, especially the first half; the back half was better. This may be better as a physical book, where one can skim, but as an un-table-of-contented-eBook, it was pretty painful.

Overall, 3.5 stars.
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Such a fascinating story about an ugly piece of history.  I cant wait to share this book!
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Fascinating and heartbreaking. I cannot stop telling everyone about this horrible injustice. I NEED them to know about this, like it's current breaking news. I'm a history buff, but this piece of it managed to evade me for 33 years. I'm so glad Kate Moore told their story.

This book is non-fiction but gave me ALL THE EMOTIONS. 

Anger: I might buy a few extra hardcovers to throw at people's heads when they start complaining about unions or labor laws. 

Gratitude: Kate Moore's extensive research and obvious expertise on the subject was impressive. She took what could have been a long, boring, courtroom procedural story and made it come alive. I can't imagine how hard it was to piece all these heartbreaking facts together. These stories NEED to be told.

Sympathy: My jaw hurt when their's broke. My teeth felt a little loose the entire time. My joints ached along with my heart. I can't even imagine what these women and their families went through.

Fear: "Lip, Dip, Paint." What else could be out there right now that we don't realized is killing us?
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The Radium Girls
By Kate Moore
*****5 stars
Reviewed by Patti Boepple

Although this story is quite sad, it is one that should not be forgotten.
Kate Moore did a great job bringing this ghastly historical event to light.

Even though what happened to the young girls/women who worked in the radium factory was horrifying the author does show how happy they were to be able to make money for themselves and their families. The author shows the gaiety and happy go lucky times they had while working at the factory and making friends along the way.  
What happened to these young girls when they were just trying to bring an income in for their families or themselves; is a horrible thing to happen.
They worked at a radium plant, painting radium on the dials of watches/clocks.
They would take the tips of the paintbrushes and dip them between their lips never knowing they were creating endless pains, afflictions, and sometimes even death for themselves. 
Who knows if they would have tortured themselves by working at the radium plant, if they knew what the aftermath would be for them?
Plus the people who owned the plant and ran it knew but greed got the best of them. I shouldn’t have been shocked to read about the selfish desires from the people owning and running the plant versus the human lives that were being poisoned. Getting those dials painted no matter what mattered more than the knowledge that young women were being exposed to poison. It was a heartless act to lie about the radium poison. 

Everyone should read this book! The public needs to know about one of radium’s greatest historical atrocities and cover-ups!  
May the young women that worked in the radium plant be remembered, forever.

I, was given this book, by for review purposes.
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I felt this book was extremely interesting. The horrors these women endured and the way they were treated is unbelievably devastating. I will most definitely recommend this book to everyone I know. We all need to know about these women and their lives.
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