The Radium Girls
By Kate Moore
One of The Reading Agency Books of the Year 2018
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As the First World War spread across the world, young American women flocked to work in factories, painting clocks, watches and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and glamorous – the girls shone brightly in the dark, covered head to toe in dust from the paint.
However, as the years passed, the women began to suffer from mysterious and crippling illnesses. It turned out that the very thing that had made them feel alive – their work – was slowly killing them: the radium paint was poisonous.
Their employers denied all responsibility, but these courageous women – in the face of unimaginable suffering – refused to accept their fate quietly, and instead became determined to fight for justice.
Drawing on previously unpublished diaries, letters and interviews, The Radium Girls is an intimate narrative of an unforgettable true story. It is the powerful tale of a group of ordinary women from the Roaring Twenties, who themselves learned how to roar.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book although remain utterly shocked and disgusted that this actually happened and was allowed to be ignored for such a long period of time. The determination and courage of the women, their loved ones and their few but important professionals is a testament to the good side of humanity - sadly the darker side prevailed all too frequently and is exposed in all its depravity by the author.
The book is well written - it lingers on the characters in a way that lets you experience who they were in tiny details which is testament to the research quality of the book as well as the compassion of Kate Moore - she not only tells of the corporate greed and negligence that led to such tragedies but also the very "ordinary"but inspiring lives of these poor women.
The style was very informative without ever being dry despite many many facts and details on every page - i would definitely recommend this book to friends
First I want to say that I am a fiction reader and shy away from non-fiction almost 100% so that understand when I say that I couldn't put down this book that it is a big thing. This book is superbly written and a gripping narration of a horrifying situation.
Late in the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries the French physicists, the Curies, discovered a new element called radium. Experiments showed it to have many interesting properties not the least of which was glowing in the dark. This proved to be very helpful in the growing fields of aviation and navigation, especially during World War 1. Applying radium to the dials of equipment made it possible to function at night. This meant that someone needed to apply the radium by hand. At this time not much was known about the side effects of coming into contact with this vicious element.
Historically this was a time when men were at war and the only people available for this task were women, young women in particular. The dials were painted by girls as young as 15 using a compound of materials one of which was powdered radium. They used very fine artists brushes that they moisten and twist into tiny points in their mouths. The finer the edge they could draw the crisper the dial would be therefore this method was highly encouraged and, indeed, this was the way the girls were trained to do the painting. Of course they were paid by the pieces so rewarded for do as many as fast as they could. After all this was war time and they doing it for the troops. In addition to being well paid, there was a respect for these girls as they were identified as talented artists in the community.
It wasn't long before strange physical things began happening to them--horrifying things.
This book recounts the discovery and denial by the companies that made fortunes through the toil and eventual pain of these
young women who absorbed huge amounts of radium through the mouth, through contact with the powder and through inhaling. The agonies they suffered is unimaginable.
The corporations denied, lied and paid off physicians, scientists and politicians to keep from having to pay medical expenses or insurance for these women. As early as the mid 1930's they knew what was happening and hid it in order to make money at the expense of these lives. This story is the tale of ultimate greed and avarice by the companies. It wasn't until the late 1970's that radium was ultimately banned.
This book is eye-opening and a condemnation of the culture of corporate greed. It should be a cautionary warning for us all. I highly recommend reading this book.
This was a harrowing true story, describing the profiteering and exploitation of young women and girls by the radium giants in the not too distant past. I was horrified by what I was reading, as I had never before heard the life stories of these young people. It was an upsetting read, in no small part due to the
author bringing the individuals to life, so that they became more than just names in an factual account. Despite this, I felt that I needed to know what happened, and turned each page in the hope that justice would be finally won. More people should know about this.
Once I started reading this book, I found it hard to put down.
I was horrified to read of the disrespect and treatment of the young women, some teenagers, who worked for a large corporation in two states in America pre and post 1st World War.These women were naively allowed and encouraged to think that touching radium whilst painting it onto dials would have no ill affect and was actually good for them to have on their skin. This procedure meant they could turn out more dials than by using safer techniques but would have meant less profit for their employer.
Today we know how dangerous contact with radium is and this can be partly attributed to these brave women who despite their horrific suffering as the danger of handling radium became apparent through their subsequent ill health and terrible suffering took their employers to account.
Kate Moore lets me get to know these girls, I learn how they tick, their camaraderie, their families. The determination they show in adversity is astounding, they are after all working class girls. Some are determined to take their bosses to account and the book takes on a "David and Goliath" feel.
The epilogue cements how by taking on the establishment and the sacrifices made by these brave souls has improved safety standards for todays workers. The radioactive contamination caused by the factory in one of the sites was still being cleaned up in 2015. This is a book that I won't forget having read.
A sad and deeply disturbing story about the struggles of young, beautiful women with their whole lives before them being turned upside down.
I knew nothing of the situation before I read this book and the facts are hard to come to terms with especially as we are shown photographs of these innocent souls.
Another case of Companies and Firms denying the working conditions and safety, all too easily back in the Roaring Twenties where ordinary people were whitewashed. Everyone should be made aware of their suffering.
Whole families affected - I dreaded the words 'my sister couldn't wait to join the company' as the work was hailed as glamorous and each one succumbed to the awful effects of the radium.
I felt the work was a little over long and repetitive at times and certainly not a book for bedtime!
When Radium was discovered, it became obvious quite early on that it had some strange properties, one of which was to make things glow in the dark. The commercial possibilities for this were endless and one of the most profitable was watch/clock dials, which could be given luminosity by the application of a paint mix containing radium. Factories opened who capitalised on this opportunity and they employed an army of women and girls, many still teenagers, to apply the radium paint. Enter the Dial Painters. As some of the dials were quite small, the paintbrushes they used weren’t really up to the job and the girls were instructed to lick the brush regularly to make it into a point. A few years on, after many of the girls had left the employment of the factories, they started to have dental problems. And this was only the beginning. This book chronicles the whole history of dial painting, from its inception right through to the conclusion of the legal battles which these pioneering girls undertook as they fought for justice against some of the industry giants.
This is an amazing book on all sorts of levels. I am ashamed to say that I knew nothing at all about this story, as current affairs and history do not make it onto my list of strong points (there are many other areas that could sit comfortably alongside those two in terms of my ignorance levels, but they are not so relevant in this instance). As such I learnt a huge amount and the book was so powerful and had such an impact that I don’t think I will ever forget these poor girls who contributed and sacrificed so much to help future generations. The research and the data collected is prodigious, which gives credence to the narrative. Not only that, but the author has somehow managed to write it in the style of a novel so that it is very accessible to everyone and not a boring catalogue of facts. In fact, it is quite gripping from start to finish and the girls themselves are carefully developed as individuals who I came to know and love as the book progressed.
My only criticism is that the book is not particularly well written in terms of language, sentence construction etc., but I can forgive that because the story is so well told and informative.
I don’t think I will ever forget the gist of what I learnt from this book and that is testament to the ability of the author to influence through her writing. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Most of us were gripped by the book, finding the account of the degeneration of the women’s health, their struggle to have it acknowledged and their long fight through the courts for recompense to be fascinating but horrifying.
It is written in a journalistic style which at times is a bit repetitious but could also seem like a drama documentary. We felt it flowed well and held our interest but one member said she found the details too harrowing and wouldn’t finish it.
We felt it was a book which needed to be written although at times it seemed to ramble and to “romanticise” the women constantly referring to their beauty, style and sweet nature.
We were all horrified by the attitude and actions of the employers and the details of the American healthcare system reinforced to us how much we benefit from the NHS. The legal system also seemed to be able to be manipulated by the employers as they tried to wriggle out of the court findings and their responsibilities.
We felt that it could benefit from some tighter editing to remove some of the repetition and to bring more focus to the first half of the book. We were shocked by the final section telling of a company in the 1970s which was repeating all the actions of the companies at fault in book.
We felt 3* was an appropriate rating.
An amazing story that deserves a wide audience. 'The Radium Girls' are literally a shining example of how determination and friendship can rise above adversity and corruption. The twists and turns of the struggles faced by the main characters are both gripping and heart-tugging.
The book is well-researched and contains information gleaned from diaries, newspapers and family history which brings to life the conditions experienced by many people at the turn of the 20th century, especially throughout the First World War and its aftermath. Corruption, corporate greed and faith are strongly featured throughout.
The essence of the story is quite shocking. The Radium Girls were taught to 'lip, dip and paint' clock dials and were paid piecemeal which encouraged the girls to maximise the number of times they repeated the deadly process.
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, directors of the United States Radium Corporation, took out advertisements to persuade people that radium was life-enhancing and health-giving. In the meantime, many of the workers experienced deteriorating health and had to drag themselves to work. Their ailments were attributed to many different causes but, for a long period of time, none of these were openly diagnosed as being associated with their employment.
Finally, the fact that the girls steadfastly fought corruption and corporate malpractice to curtail the number of lives being sacrificed for the sake of commercial gain makes the epilogue even more unpalatable.
All through the book, the power of money was demonstrated but the girls steadfastly fought to defy the odds. Throughout, I was desperately rooting for the Radium Girls. I was fascinated by their journey combined with their social context and would definitely recommend their story to others.
The Radium Girls is an utterly shocking, but absorbing read. The book is painstakingly researched, (which can't have been easy), so we get to know the girls and young women who so tragically and needlessly died from radium poisoning. I found the photos compelling as they helped me to feel for the characters in the appallingly prolonged saga before justice was finally done.
This is a hard and long book to read, taking one through a wide range of emotions. Huge sympathy and awe for the women's bravery and sadness for their families; immense anger and frustration towards the corporations, and those dentists and doctors who colluded with them; relief that there were a few strong people who fought on their behalf.
It would be good if everyone read this book as it serves as a warning of the enduring power of money and the lengths to which greedy companies will go, even today.
This book should be required reading in schools. How was it that an industrial process maimed and killed scores of women, many under 30, and condemned them to an agonising ‘living death’, yet their employers denied, and would continue to deny, any liability whatsoever for years and years?
This book pulls no punches. The girls had a mantra - ‘lip, dip, paint’. It should have been ‘lip, dip, die’. Before the first world war, young women were employed to paint dials for watches and clocks and for military use. They were quick, nimble fingered and very well paid and the company that employed them strenuously denied that there was any danger in the luminous concoction that they ingested as they skilfully completed their orders.
It was a carefree life. They had good money in their pockets, could afford to dress well and party hard. They recruited friends and sisters to join them. Life was good. When they walked home in the dusk they glowed which gave them an ethereal quality. Some were encouraged to take powder home with them to experiment. They used it as make up and mixed it to paint on their nails.
But the good years were not to last as their health deteriorated and gradually their diverse symptoms were linked to their employment. This book traces the struggle to lay the blame on radium used in the paint and the court testimony given by these young women is agonising. They enabled the employee protection laws in the USA to be drawn up for the benefit of succeeding generations. They gave their lives.