Title: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
Author: Kate Moore
Length: 16 hours (479 pages)
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Source: Library (Libby)
Recommended for fans of: women in science
Content: graphic medical details, gaslighting
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…
This is such an important story. It is horrifying, infuriating, and heartbreaking. I am shocked that I had never previously heard about these women since their experiences significantly impacted the development of workers’ rights, workplace safety, and even nuclear safety protocols.
The Radium Girls tells the story of women working at radium-dial factories producing luminous watches for soldiers during World War I. There were absolutely NO safety precautions in place as these women painted watch faces with radium paint, and the women were even encouraged to put the radium-coated paint brushes in their mouths to reshape the bristles. At first, these gross oversights in safety seemed like a result of ignorance–radium was heralded as a “miracle drug” with far-reaching health benefits upon its discover. However, as scientists discovered the dangers of radium, these radium companies hid truth from their workers, lied to female employees who expressed concerns, and did nothing to improve safety in their factories.
Many women who were dial painters eventually developed alarming symptoms: rotting teeth, necrosis, cancerous tumors, sepsis, fragile bones, aches and pains all over the body, and death. The book goes into horrifying detail about their symptoms, their medical journeys, and eventual legal battles for workers’ compensation. The companies’ responses absolutely outraged me.
The story did get a bit repetitive since so many women experienced similar symptoms, but I appreciate how Kate Moore told the individual stories of as many of these women as possible. These women deserve to be remembered, and Moore does a fantastic job of not only detailing a health and legal crisis, but also connecting it to human experience. The Radium Girls gives a voice to these forgotten women and delivers justice for so many wrongs these women and their families faced.