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Written by Kate Moore, The Radium Girls sets out to humanize the girls who painted with radium. With the story split between two settings, one in Orange, New Jersey, and one in Ottawa, Illinois, the reader feels the hope of the girls, the pain and tragedy, and the section where one story overlaps the other, bringing a wave of dramatic irony when the reader realizes the ultimate fate of the dial painters laying beyond the peace. Discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie and isolated by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne, radium was renowned throughout the early twentieth century for its self-luminous abilities and pseudo-scientific health benefits. However, by the time the dial painters, later dubbed The Radium Girls, started working, their companies’ scientists were already aware of the harm radium caused upon the human body. Despite this, the companies encouraged the girls to follow a “lip, dip, paint” procedure, sharpening the brush with the mouth, dipping the brush into the paint, and drawing numbers onto wristwatches. The companies’ doctors also went to great lengths to conceal the problem and mislead the girls and their families into thinking radium was of no harm. What could only be described as shocking, there are many stories of dial workers painting their nails, teeth, and faces with radium paint, only exemplifying the supposed benefits of radium believed by the girls.
While it’s definitely misleading to speak of radium paint as if it were majority radium, the one microgram of radium in each of the wristwatches the girls painted was enough to cause enough weakening of the bone that girls’ jawbones would crumble and become porous. It was a completely different experience to learn about the aftermath of radium poisoning as it was to walk through the narrative of young women whose bodies slowly fell apart, year by year, with the truth concealed from them and the law against them. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading narrative nonfiction, about women’s history, about workplace safety history, or all three (which is why I personally picked this book up in the first place.)
Even though this book is over 400 pages, I couldn't put it down and finished it within a day. Kate Moore is a brilliant author and you forget you're reading a lengthy non-fiction title. The subject matter is heart wrenching and I'm not ashamed to admit I cried towards the end, but it was so worth it to know the stories of these women and the sacrifices they made.
Many girls are named so I got lost in trying to follow all of them. Realize this is just a small percentage of those who lives were impacted by companies' careless choices. This book details out the process these young women were told in how to use Radium and then the court process and the impact it had on the origins OSHA.
Fantastic book! Everyone should read this so we don't forget what these ladies went through.
When the Curies successfully isolated the radioactive radium in 1902, private firms raced to occupy the market of luminescent watches. At the time, radium was not only thought to be safe, but also beneficial upon contact and even consumption. So when factories girls who were paid to paint watch faces put radium-dipped paintbrushes into their mouths, few expected the dire consequences that would later manifest in their bodies.
Except the companies themselves. But valuing profit over everything else, they created an illusion of healthfulness and gaslit the girls into silence, even when they began to suffer from tooth loss, non-healing wounds, miscarriages, bone fractures, cancer, and death itself.
As their employees suffered, these companies denied all knowledge and responsibility of their wrongdoings. Their lawyers refused to compensate for the lives lost. Their witnesses lied in court. The companies whose products illuminated the night had become night itself, and it was only after more than a decade of lawsuit that the women finally won their justice.
This book really reminds me of Bad Blood, which made my top 10 list in 2019. Despite the amount of information and the number of people involved in the case, Kate Moore is able to bring to life each woman’s pain and strength. Moore also writes with incredible style, with breath-gripping developments every other page and foreboding cliffhangers at the end of each chapter.
The Radium Girls are remembered today for their pursuit of justice and the consequent implementation of labor protection laws, but beneath their almost martyr-like demeanors were just ordinary human beings. Human beings who wanted to help others, human beings who wanted to live to see their grandchildren, and human beings who rebelled against the way capitalism had trampled over their crippled bodies.
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This is a topic that I've been interested in learning more about for a while, so I was eager to read this book. I was surprised that I found myself able to stick with it due to the length and heft of the topic, but I found myself hooked on the story. That said, there are some slow and redundant parts in the middle that nearly spoiled it. I was glad I powered through them because the latter part of the book when it starts discussing the legal fallout of the issue was the most interesting part. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew the girls. Side note- Don't skip the Epilogue and Author's Note at the end. They are very informative as well.
I feel this story would be more impactfal if it were told in half the length of it's current presentation. There are redundant details of each girl repeated throughout the book just to keep the reader's interest which I found boring and unnecessary.
Available as a ebook or eaudio, although I found the audiobook narrator wasn't the best. This book is a very eye-opening and important read, especially at a time when consumers and workers need to watch the behavior and interests of companies, investors, and government leaders so carefully. I chose this from a science reading list but the takeaways for me focused on the girls themselves, their desire to do well for their families, and their fight for equality and justice in the workplace.
this was a very eye opening story about what a company will do to profit, regardless of the lives at stake. However despite all the sad truths within this story about the many women and families affected, I found it very sweet in some parts. The little bit of regular life we get to glims of each girl reminds me of the kindness and curiousity that many young girls posses. I did really enjoy the author stressing how little each of the workers knew about what was happening and how much the co operations and companies hid from them all during this very dark time in our history.
THE RADIUM GIRLS is a 20th-century female version of the classic David vs. Goliath parable. It’s the inspiring, true story of ordinary women who fought for their rights against the powerful radium industry, while they also battled the devastating effects of radium poisoning. Several of the passages and photos depicting the illnesses and injuries suffered by the victims may be particularly difficult for sensitive readers. Although author Kate Moore’s writing sometimes seemed dry and repetitive, ultimately, the book is a thought-provoking testament to the women’s courage and perseverance. THE RADIUM GIRLS is also a cautionary reminder of what can happen when a business, because of greed and corruption, values corporate profits over the safety and well-being of its workers. For me, this makes the book all the more relevant and troubling for today’s world, given our government’s current policies of deregulation and weakening of industry and environmental standards. May this history never repeat itself.
I gave this book 5 stars because I found the content so incredibly interesting. It is amazing to go back in history (to when they had weird tinctures that could cure everything!) with the knowledge we now have and read about common practices that you just shake your head at. But then when people did start to learn about the dangers of Radium....then it is even more astounding to read what progressed, and the complete lack of morals or regard for peoples lives. It really makes you question what chemicals we commonly use today, and if 100 years from now people are going to shake their heads at us!
Lip. Dip. Paint. Repeat.
Story of women in the 1920s painting luminous watch dials.
A job that would slowly poison, deform and kill them.
Very well researched book about a certain dark part of our history I, like many people out there, didn't know even happened. It is sad that these women's debilitating deaths is what it took to change safety laws at jobs. And all that was because of corporate greed. How often has this already happened since the tragedies involving the Radium Girls? Just think about it, the decades of lead poisonings that have been happening since the 19th century and companies making and selling it for household products, knew of the dangers of lead. Or the asbestos cases that still keeping springing up with companies, the military in many cases, knowing fully well of its hazardous and lethal properties to humans. And now the situation in Flint, MI. These are all reminders that we still have a way to go. I understand that the statute of limitations is in places for good reasons for businesses to protect their profits from frivolous lawsuits. But too often times history has pointed out how those laws get abused by corporations, even by the government at times. It is sad that never-ending court battles in such cases is what it still takes to push for change. The Radium Girls are a strong reminder of this, and also of the complete level of discrimination they endured based on their sex. Their memories, their contributions though most have suffered great debilitating pain, should never be forgotten.
If you enjoy Radium Girls and want something similar and yet uniquely different, check out the alternate history novel The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander. It is fascinating! An excellent compliment to Kate Moore's history.
This is a book I recommend again and again. It gives life to the women affected by radium poisoning while working a coveted job. There is a bit of repetition in the writing, but overall, this is a well researched and well written book. Keep tissues close as you will want to scream and cry for these courageous women.
A great book on the dark history of women who unknowingly contracted radiation poisoning while painting watch dials with self-luminous paint. This book is an interesting look at how factory workers were treated by higher-ups and is equally sad and frustrating. If you like to read about the dark and weird history of the early 1900s, def. check this book out!
Fascinating story; a must read! I didn't know any of this historical tragedy prior to reading this book. It was a great book club discussion.
Kate Moore does an excellent job creating a well-written, thoroughly researched narrative that is gripping and sobering. It's hard to imagine the suffering of these women, and hats off to them for their perseverance and the people who helped along the way.
A gripping read that held my attention from the very start. A brilliantly written story about America's dark industrial past and the lack of value for workers, especially women, over profits. What these women went through was horrific but their fight for justice was courageous in face of all the harm they endured. These brave women's battles paved the way to the establishment of the EPA. This true story is the perfect and only example we need of why regulations are critical to protect citizens from the ill effects of industry.
More history of female pioneers that has gone untold. It is past time to tell the stories of females and the role they have played in history. Well written. Kept me reading from beginning to end.