The Radium Girls
The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore
Courtesy of NetGalley
I had the opportunity to read The Radium Girls by Kate Moore through NetGalley. It was a disturbing and fascinating book. Although the dangerous properties of radium were known to the Curies who discovered it, there was a general denial by the population of its dangers. The companies that used radium to paint watch dials to make them glow in the dark did not give any warnings to their employees. Women would routinely drip paint brushes with radium into their mouths before applying the paint to the dials. When the women were finally examined after years of exposure, radium had penetrated so deeply into their tissues they literally glowed in the dark.
The author lays out a timeline of the commercial use of radium. She introduces the women who worked painting the dails. She details their health and lives before starting to work at the plant. Ms. Moore also explains the process in which different workers in different positions were exposed. As the workers begin to show signs of various illness, they sought help from a medical field that did not understand radiation poisoning. Many girls were unable to work anymore due to illness. The statute of limitations for work related illnesses was only five months. By the point the women began to realize their illness was work related, more than five months had passed since they were employed.
The book is fascinating in the wonderful way Ms. Moore makes the women truly present. The reader begins to care about the women because of the wonderful way Ms. Moore tells their story. You feel their frustration with not being able to find answers as they are suffering greatly. You admire their persistence in pursuing a legal case to stop the company’s negligence.
The book is disturbing in the level of the cover up by the company. The smear campaign included telling the public that the real cause of the illnesses was syphilis. They painted the women as suffering from a venereal disease and ruined their reputations. The legal system was a Goliath that they sick women needed to defeat.
I recommend reading The Radium Girls. Like HIdden Figures, it is a book that tells a story that we need to know. We need to hear about these women who had the presence of mind to document their stories and make sure their stories were shared from generation to generation. Laws now in place to protect employees and give them access to information about dangerous conditions are because of the legal challenges of women. That is their legacy.
The audio version is narrated by Angela Brazil. I obtained it through Hoopla Digital and my local library system. Ms. Brazil does a nice job.