File Name: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
Author : Kate Moore (Goodreads Author)
ISBN : 9781492650959
Format : Paperback 496 pages
Genre : Nonfiction, History, Science, Biography, Historical,
Rating: it was amazing
Congratulations-winner of Best Historical & Biography 2017!
I'm going to try and not cry while writing this review. I actually read this one back at the beginning of October, but I was too emotional to write a review straight away and have avoided it since. Sometimes I have trouble with emotions; for many years I avoided some of the richest books with the highest quality stories because I simply was terrified of having to process the heavy feelings behind them. I've slowly begun working on this issue, and while I can't read a slew of emotional books in a row, I have begun to place them strategically in my line up. I think the hardest part about this one is it's real; these women existed in our world and suffered the things discussed in this book which tears my heart into little pieces. I've watched firsthand how cancer can ravage the body of someone you love, but that was just a small piece of the hell these brave warriors had to endure. Ugh, grab a hanky and let's get going.
This was not a book I could race through; I read another review stating how she had to pick up the book and place it down in what felt like 2 minute increments-this is exactly how it felt slowly trudging through this story. My initial interest in the history behind "the radium girls" spawned after reading another book that had a small chapter of information in it titled Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid (highly recommend this book even to those crime fiction fans who do not typically read non-fiction as this read like fiction!). After the brief intro into their story, I knew I had to find out more. I was blown away at their courage and strength which is portrayed in this book as well. The hardest part about reading this one was the depth it went into to ensure we understand just how much these women suffered and how honorable their fight was to fight those who placed them in this position and find justice.
One of the most important takeaways I found though was how proud and honored this story made me feel to be a woman. These females were a class act; they were determined during a time when women were considered second class citizens. We could certainly use some role models such as these in today's world; the example of the strength in numbers and how to hold each other up when you are falling apart, physically and emotionally, was not lost on me. I found myself going to great lengths wondering what happened to our society between now and then; have the subtle advancements for women caused us to compete with each other in seclusion rather than band together while building one another up? I feel like I could ramble on for days regarding this book, but if you can stomach the horror and emotion regarding this much overlooked part of our history, I think it will ensure deep reflection and cause us to question some of how we approach living our lives and what we hold important. I know I'll hold this story deep in my soul for the rest of my life, it was that powerful.
*I'd like to thank the author and publisher for providing my copy via NetGalley; it was my pleasure to provide an honest review.
Rating: really liked it
“I can’t laugh about those poor women who painted the clocks,” said Sarah. “That’s one thing I can’t laugh about.”
“Nobody wants you to.” said her grandmother. “You run along now.”
Sarah was referring to an industrial tragedy that was notorious at the time. Sarah’s family was in the middle of it, and sick about it. Sarah had already told me that she was sick about it, and so had her brother, my roommate, and so had their father and mother. The tragedy was a slow one that could not be stopped once it had begun, and it began in the family’s clock company, the Wyatt Clock Company, one of the oldest companies in the United States, in Brockton, Massachusetts. It was an avoidable tragedy. The Wyatts never tried to justify it, and would not hire lawyers to justify it. It could not be justified.
It went like this: In the nineteen twenties the United States Navy awarded Wyatt Clock a contract to produce several thousand standardized ships’ clocks that could be easily read in the dark. The dials were to be black. The hands and the numerals were to be hand-painted with white paint containing the radioactive element radium. About half a hundred Brockton women, most of them relatives of regular Wyatt Clock Company employees, were hired to paint the hands and numerals. It was a way to make pin money. Several of the women who had young children to look after were allowed to do the work at home.
Now all those women had died or were about to die most horribly with their bones crumbling, with their heads rotting off. The cause was radium poisoning. Every one of them had been told by a foreman, it had since come out in court, that she should keep a fine point on her brush by moistening it and shaping it with her lips from time to time.
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut (1979)
Rating: it was amazing
!! NOW AVAILABLE !!
4.5 Stars rounded up
I wanted to showcase their shining spirits in a book that would tell their story – not just the story of the famous professionals who had helped them.
I aimed to chart their journey: from the joy of their first lucrative paycheck, through the first aching tooth, to the courage each girl had to find inside herself in order to fight back against the employer who had poisoned her.
I wanted to walk their routes to work and visit their homes and graves. I wished to trace the path between the Maggia sisters’ houses and appreciate how difficult it must have been to manage the steep, sloping hill with a radium-induced limp.
Seventeen young women, some very young, with a lifetime of promise ahead of them. In a time when jobs were scarce and glamorous jobs were few and far between, landing a job with Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Newark, New Jersey was considered a coup. A factory job, in essence, but they referred to it as a studio, these girls were paid to paint watch dial numerals and hands with a luminous substance that made them visible in the dark. On 1 February 1917, Katherine Schaub was making her way to “the studio” for her first day on the job. Katherine was just fourteen years old.
Radium. Its virtues were extolled everywhere one looked. Magazines, newspapers called it the greatest find of history. New radium products popped up with claims of everything from improved health to being the answer to eternal life. Katherine only saw it as beautiful, a luminous glow.
At first, Katherine was trained by Mae Cubberly. Another young woman, Mae was twenty years old. 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 she had been worried about ingesting the radium and asked if the radium would hurt them, but had been told it wasn’t dangerous, 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.
They looked glorious, like otherworldly angels.
And then America joined the war in Europe.
Demand increased. 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. Grace Fryer, eighteen – her two brothers would be heading to France to fight alongside millions. Irene Corby, seventeen. Of course, the new girls were learning to “Lip…Dip…Paint.”
And years pass, it’s the early 1920s, some girls had left the radium company, but it was never long before their spot was filled with some young, new girl thrilled to land this glamorous job. Some of the girls began to complain of being tired, mysterious and unrelenting pains. Some left to find other jobs, some just left, incapable of the demands any longer. 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.”
This is the story of their fight to be heard, of their fight to find the real cause of these myriad plagues that beset them. Who would be the ones to champion their cause, and who would be those rich and powerful men who would not only deceive them, deny their own wrong-doing, lying through their teeth, making empty promises of recompense which would later be denied or reneged on.
Heartbreaking as it is, these stories are not about delicate little flowers who fall trembling at the feet of the rich and powerful. These are women, who, though physically weakened, found the strength and determination to do what needed to be done - not only themselves or their families, but to protect those still working with radium, and everyone in the future.
This is a well-researched story, and it shows. The sense of injustice is palpable, the story flows evenly, but varies from the fact-delivering, non-fictional voice as the author enters more emotional territory and paints the picture of scenes one could only imagine without her words. A compelling account of another era, the evolution of the rights of the average worker, but especially those working women whose voices they tried, in vain, to suppress and invalidate.
Pub Date: 1 May 2017
Many thanks for the ARC provided by Sourcebooks
Rating: really liked it
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 gleaming 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 so....as 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. Recommend checking out some of the old "glowing" advertisements, and the story behind THE RADIUM GIRLS bronze statue erected in Ottawa, Illinois. Interesting stuff!
Many thanks to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS for the free ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.
Rating: really liked it
I saw a lot of positive reviews for this one so I really wanted to read it and I'm glad I did. During the beginning of the twentieth century radioactive elements were newly discovered and many were excited about the possible curative uses for them. One of the elements radium was used to paint watch dials as well as in many beauty and health products marketed to the masses. When World War I broke out the production of radium painted clocks rose and many more women became employed painting them. The common practice was to use one's mouth to smooth out the ends of the paint brush leading to many women ingesting lethal amounts of radium. Eventually when the effects started to show the women had trouble finding out what caused their sickness and then trying to get the companies to acknowledge and help them pay the medical bills pilling up. The author succeeded in humanizing and bringing to life the radium girls and I honestly was boiling over with rage through out when the companies wouldn't help the girls out even though they were doing fine financially. I can't believe they went to all those lengths instead of just doing the right thing to begin with, especially because it seems like it honestly would have been cheaper to just help the girls with their medical bills.
Rating: it was amazing
Imagine you have your first job. Imagine how proud you are. Or maybe it is not your first job, but it is a fun job where you get to socialize if you get your job done. A job that allows you to do something important for your country. Imagine you are helping your friends and sisters obtain a job as well. Imagine you work with a super cool substance which glows in the dark. A substance you believe is safe - your employer tells you is safe. A substance that one young woman painted on her own teeth before a date. A substance that Thomas Edison deemed dangerous. A substance you paint on. A substance that some women were known to eat the paint because they enjoyed it.
Now, imagine how painful it must be to have your teeth fall out, to have your jaw come out, to have the bones in your face disintegrate. Imagine your bones begin to hurt so bad you can barely move. Imagine one leg suddenly becoming 4 inches shorter than the other. Imagine bleeding to death. Imagine giving birth to a stillborn baby. Imagine going from being young and healthy to being dead in less than a week.
The poor women in this book did not have to imagine any of these things because they lived this. This book is about the young women who wanted to do their part to help the war effort during World War I. These women worked in radium factories painting the faces on clocks. They were working with a luminous material and were come to be called as the "shining girls" They took a tremendous amount of pride in their jobs and many liked that they could "glow" in the dark. But then one by one they began having dental problems. The dental problems were only the beginning.
The women began to die horribly painful deaths. Their loved ones left with questions unanswered. Most of the women were misdiagnosed in the beginning. Eventually their deaths became connected and the dangers of radium and radium poisoning were known. Thus, began a huge scandal and a fight for workers’ rights.
The writing of this book was captivating. I found myself absorbed in these women's stories. Even as they were dying, these women tried hard to complete their doctor’s tests to determine if radium was to blame for their impending death. The Author did a wonderful job in bringing these women's stories to life. To show how they and their families had to battle for their rights. How a company can deny accountability and turn their back on these women. How their loved ones and lawyers fought for them and their rights.
Wowza. What a wonderfully informative, sad, hopeful and interesting book. I learned a lot. I love when a book makes me think, feel, and learn. I had all these things going on when I read this book. I highly recommend this book.
I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Rating: liked it
What seemed like a fun, good paying job, especially for the times turns into an epic nightmare of pain and suffering for the girls who worked with radium, hand painting dials. My eldest granddaughter lived in Ottawa for a time and it is a town that is quaint, charming and has a great state park, Starved Rock, that we have gone to for years. I never knew about this factory nor anything about the history of these poor girls before this book. The author deserves kudos for bringing this huge miscarriage to the attention of readers.
Why I gave it only three stars. I think probably if you read it will depend on what you are looking for, and once again I found a blurb misleading. I though I would get to know these girls with a bit more depth, but so many girls are mentioned that was virtually Impossible though some are mentioned more often then others. The skipping around between the plants, the two locations was a bit disruptive and confusing at times. Their suffering, the horror of what they eventually go through, so many died, so young, this does come through, loud and clear, rightfully so. Still all that I mentioned, did make for repetitious reading.
I expected a more straightforward narrative, an intimate narrative account,and that is not this book, though I am very glad I read it. Big companies, doing bad things, hiding things for profit, are still and always will I believe happen. Avarice and greed are two of the seven deadly sins for a reason. Makes me wonder what we are doing today, eating or taking that we think is wonderful, that will turn out to be detrimental.
Rating: it was amazing
Update!!! Interview with the author can now be found here: http://avalinahsbooks.space/interview...
They were called The Girls With Radioactive Bones.
There were newspaper headlines such as ' Living Dead' Win In Court' about them.
And all that – almost a hundred years ago.
I'm going to tell you a very painful, sad, but strong story of fighting for your rights, for justice, for your honor even. So let's start.
If there was ever a time that I wanted to believe the Christian hell with burning pits of fire, it would be when reading The Radium Girls. It's because you can sell anything. You can make people believe the worst poison is a cure. You can sell other people's lives. And in the process, sell your own soul. And that's what the burning hell is there for.
So if you still haven't heard what The Radium Girls is about, let it be my pleasure to enlighten you.
Back in the early 20th century, people didn't know a lot about radiation . Rather, they did, but they didn't have a habit of sharing information, like we do now. Which is why it was thought that radium, a highly radioactive substance, was in fact good for you. Because it sold well. Because any miracle cure always sells well.
So nobody even batted an eyelash when radium dial clock factories sprang up and started hiring young women to paint in their studios. Not wearing any protective suits. Putting the radium-covered brush straight into their mouths. Ingesting the radium. Like they were instructed. Because 'the radium is good for you'. It will put rosy cheeks on you.
Photo courtesy of The Atlantic
It's not that they didn't bat an eyelash, really – they were actually even jealous of the girls, of their shining clothes and shining hair – as they returned from work. All covered in radioactive, glaring radium. Like a fairytale curse – enchanted pixie dust, that will bring you happiness, a fortune, that will make your position coveted and make every other girl jealous of your angelic glow. And yet, coming with a price akin to the fairytale one, where you have to give away your firstborn. Which was also what some of these girls pretty much did.
Unfortunately for them, back in the 1920's, the US government wasn't too keen about interfering with companies. So when they started dying horrible, torturous deaths one by one, dropping like flies, nobody intervened. They were called names. Liars. They were said to have died of sexually transmitted diseases. All the while suffering the worst kind of physical pain, because... the radium was literally in their bones. So much so, that decades, hundreds of years after we're all gone, the remains of these girls in their graves will still glow and emit radiation.
So this story is about how these poor, brave women fought for justice, for at least a little bit of honor in the end of their lives, and for the ones after them. For all of you. Because this is why you can now boast some safety in your jobs. This is why you are not forced to quit when you get sick. It's also why your bosses are not allowed to blatantly lie to you if they make you work with dangerous substances. And especially as women (if you, reader, are one), you have a lot to thank these girls for.
I could say so much about this story. In fact, I could quote the entire book. But that would kind of defeat the purpose of you reading it, wouldn't it? Which is what I must urge you to do, because you must know. You must know how much pain it took for our lives to be paved the way they are, to build up to this point. This is the least we can do for these girls – hear their story. Say a prayer for them. Remember them.
The women we meet in this book are all so exceptional, bright, warm, cheerful. The way some of them fight this incredibly crippling condition they're faced with was so inspiring. And heartbreaking, at the same time. This book doesn't read like like non-fiction, for starters! You will be drawn into the story instantly, you will even cry. Some of you – more than once. You will curse the people who did this to them, even though they knew what they were doing. You will be angry, maybe even furious. I don't see how anyone could remain a stone statue in the presence of something like this. I dare you.
But your heart will also swell with love. For the wonderful people who helped them. For the husbands and lovers of those young women who never threw them away, even when they were helpless shadows of their former selves, unable to move, to speak, to eat. You will bless the few lawyers and judges who weren't in it for the money, who fought for justice and for their own belief in the world. And most of all, your heart will swell with love for those young women who had no other option but to die, to die a graceful death, to die a proud death – because that's all that was left to them.
Precious materials are more precious than human life. Such is the tendency today as well. Maybe not in the Western world anymore. But in some places of the world it still is. In the beginning of this post, I said anything can be sold. This book will make you wonder what is being sold to you right now.
I am also very happy to announce to you all that the author Kate Moore has agreed to give an interview on my blog! I will be publishing it in the coming two weeks, most likely, and you are very welcome to hear the story of how this book came to be. I have a lot of respect for Kate because of how warmly she treated the memory of the girls when she was writing this book.
I am also deeply thankful to Kate Moore and Sourcebooks for giving me an advance copy of in exchange for my honest review. This was a bigger gift than you could imagine. This book was worth all my love and all my tears.
If you feel for these girls and their story, please share my post. We must make stories like this heard. I want this story to be known by as many people as possible, so we can all honor their memory. Thank you for reading!
Rating: it was amazing
I found this book very different from anything I've ever read previously. It evoked such emotion with the details it revealed throughout and was both highly readable and thrilling. These women deserve to be recognised for the huge sacrifices they made, all they asked was the same as most of us do now - a steady job with money coming in, yet, what they got turned into something else entirely. Kate Moore did exactly what she set out to do by writing a truly honest and heartbreaking tale of these incredibly brave and shining women whose lives were taken for granted by the greedy radium companies. They knew of the harm radium could do but in order to profit from the radium binge, let the women continue with their practices.
This is an important book with regards to workplace reform but also will be of interest to those in medical and science fields or with interest in them. I am in no doubt that this sort of thing could be repeated in this day and age, due to the amount of people who's morals retire when money is involved.
Highly recommended to fans of non-fiction and well researched true stories.
Rating: it was amazing
All the stars for this well researched nonfiction that is just infused with emotion. Kate Moore writes in such a manner that I quickly became immersed in the stories of the American women in the 1920's and 1930's that were exposed to radium poisoning. What these women and their families went through to have the truth heard in the courts and in the country! I felt so furious at the company that refused for so long to admit their wrongdoing. Imagine implying that all these women had died of "Cupid's disease" aka syphilis. A definite must read on the 2017 TBR list.
Thanks to NetGalley for an uncorrected digital galley in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: it was amazing
It is amazing, what the emotional impact of such a simple thing like reading a book can do to the mind. I finished this book last night before I went to bed, and I was crying. I was crying for the women and their families, I was crying as I learned justice was finally served and mostly, I was crying because I feel so fortunate, that because of these brave, powerful women, that we know more about radium and it's dangers today.
I've had to sleep on this, before writing any words about it. Mostly because, I struggle to find the words, for something so harrowing as this. I have watched cancer and it's utter devastation it has on the body and what it can leave in it's path. The aftermath that is left with the families, when they try to pick up the pieces. But, I don't think that is anything in comparison to what these amazing brave women were forced to endure, and eventually mostly succumb to. I think the fact that they existed, and they experienced absolute hell, makes it all the more difficult to digest.
I'd heard about The radium girls at various points in my life over the course of a couple of years. I'd heard snippets about it, but I'd never really read anything about it in intricate detail. Nothing like this book, anyway. Once I started reading this, I really wanted to read it in one sitting. I was so fascinated by it, and I couldn't quite believe what I was reading in some parts, it was that horrific. The author ensured the reader knew the true, raw experiences that these desperately ill women went through. I had to take a pause in a few places throughout the book, and take a breath. It was that intense and tragic.
What I really do appreciate about this book, is the women were fighting for justice at a time, when women were seen as the second sex. It honestly does make me incredibly proud to be a woman. The way in which these women formed a group together, fought together even in their very darkest and frightening hour, just tells you something about the female sex. We definitely need some more role models like this in today's society.
I honestly feel like I could talk about this book for hours on end, and I think it is a very important book of our history, and if you can overcome the horrors described in this book, then I think it could help make you reflect on your own lives and what matters most.
I will not ever, forget this story, and I feel honoured to have read it.
Rating: really liked it
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.
All of Norma’s & my reviews can be found on our Sister Blog:
Rating: it was amazing
Radium, discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, was thought to be 'the wonder element,' a magnificent cure-all that could destroy cancerous tumors and could perhaps be the elixir of youth.
When added to paint this 'liquid sunshine' could glow in the dark. In 1916, Radium Luminous Materials Corporation opened its doors in Newark, New Jersey and operated a watch dial studio that employed local girls, the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants, as painters.
One hundred years ago, before OSHA and the EPA, industry had few restrictions or oversight of their workplaces in their pursuit of profits so even though the inventor of the paint knew of its destructive capabilities, the girls were not given any warnings or protective gear to wear. In fact, they were instructed to put the slim camel-hair brushes in their mouths to get a finer point for their work. Lip...Dip...Paint. Over and over, thousands of times a day.
With WWI in full swing, the demand for radium dials and watches was booming; the company paid an attractive wage and employed as many as 375 girls at the peak of business. The job wasn't for everyone: some couldn't work at the pace demanded, some didn't like the taste of the paint, and some developed mouth sores quickly. But those who were talented and quick enough stayed on, liking the workplace and especially the decent salary they were paid.
The first signs of illness and changes in blood resembled phosphorus poisoning, a well-known industrial poisoning in Newark, and the girls confronted their employers. They were assured that there was no need to worry--the radium amounts in the paint were so minuscule that it could not possibly cause them harm.
In 1921, a corporate takeover ousted the original founder of the company and the business, renamed United States Radium Corporation, was poised to flourish in the postwar world.
As the girls sickened, doctors and dentists were flummoxed by the illnesses the girls came to see them with: loose teeth, gum sockets that would not heal after extractions, pronounced limps, aches and pains. But since the girls saw different experts, all these differing complaints were not connected to one workplace.
When radium poisoning was first suggested, it was highly contested by the industry and legal suits fell by the wayside as prevailing laws did not support the workers' claims.
Meanwhile, 800 miles away in Ottawa, Illinois, another business started up in September of 1922: Radium Dial Company with its head office in Chicago. And the use of the 'lip, dip, paint' technique was taught to a whole new group of eager young women employees. And the deadly process began again.
Other books have been written about this whole sorry and horrifying business but in this book, Kate Moore says she wanted to bring the girls' personal stories to light and give them a voice--all their hopes, dreams, pain, suffering and eventual deaths. But most importantly, how these women stood up for their rights with strength, dignity and courage. Because of their legal cases, the US government eventually formed OSHA and the EPA. Kudos to these brave women!
Having lived in the general vicinity of Ottawa, IL since 1981, we were aware of this sad, shameful history through displays in local history museums but didn't realize that the area where these jobs were carried on is still in the process of being cleaned up as of 2015, according to Moore. Radium has a half-life of 1500 years! And a spinoff of the original Radium Dial company carried on business until 1978 under the name of Luminous Processes, and when workers there noticed a high incidence of breast cancer, the company denied its culpability. And the beat goes on...
Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this important and moving work of nonfiction. Thank you for bringing these women's stories to life in these pages.
Notes: It was a pleasure to meet author Kate Moore at a program she gave for Seneca Public Library, Seneca, IL on March 19, 2018. She genuinely cares for these women and their stories. I also sat next to the great niece of Catherine Donohue, the brave woman who won her law suit against Radium Dial even as she lay dying. It was a pleasure to meet her as well and learn more about her family.
Rating: it was amazing
In the early 1900s Radium was a sensation. The Curie's discovery was touted as a cure-all, a miracle, a wonder. At the time, little was understood about the side effects of handling Radium, however.
In an era when most jobs for women were low paying, young women lined up for positions painting clock faces with radium paint. The jobs were high paying and gave them status in their community. The clock faces glowed a radiant green in the dark, making them a popular purchase. These girls sat for hours happily painting, pointing their paint brushes by swishing them in their mouths. They played games with leftover radium paint, drawing moustaches on themselves, painting their eyebrows, dabbing a bit on their lips. Then they would huddle in a dark room, laughing at the bright green glow. The effect didn't wear off after work. Their clothes, their hair, even their skin would glow. Often they wore their best dresses to work so that their clothing would glow at parties. What they didn't realize is the painful effects Radium exposure would have on their health.
When many of these dial painting employees began having serious medical issues....chronic mouth infections, loose teeth, disintegrating jaw bones, tumors, and even death....their employers turned a blind eye. They refused to take responsibility for the work-related illnesses and deaths. Several studies were done that refuted claims that radium was the cause of the illnesses. It took years of fighting and public outcry for life-saving regulations to be put in place to protect workers from this scale of work related injury and blatant disregard for employee health and safety.
This book is well-written and an enjoyable read. It tells the tale of these bright, happy young women who were so excited to have a high paying, fun job...but who often paid a high price for working with radium. They were risking their lives for $17.50 (about $242 today) a week, and didn't even know it. When dentists starting noticing multiple women with crumbling jaw bones and chronic mouth infections, it took years for the cause to be traced back to radium. Rather than putting their employees health at the forefront, the employers involved chose to hide the facts so they could continue to make money. The women, injured by exposure to Radium, had to fight to have their story heard, and it led to work place safety regulations to prevent similar exposure to future workers. They were courageous and fought for what they knew was right.
This book is horrifying and haunting, yet compelling. I'm glad the stories of these women and what they endured isn't being lost to time. It was 100 years ago now, but their fight for justice shouldn't be forgotten. Lovely and informative read. I highly recommend it!
Rating: did not like it
I REALLY did not like this. I got so angry reading this because the writing bugged me SO much that I may be somewhat unkind in this review, and I feel bad about that, because I think this is a worthwhile book and Moore's heart was in the right place when she wrote it. But ... Moore's writing style really bugged me. Because, in a book about children and young people working in factories and being poisoned by radium, the last thing I care about is how pretty they were.
[Katherine Schaub] was an attractive girl of just fourteen; her fifteenth birthday was in five weeks’ time. Standing just under five foot four, she was “a very pretty little blonde” with twinkling blue eyes, fashionably bobbed hair, and delicate features.
As time went on, she got to know her colleagues better. One was Josephine Smith, a sixteen-year-old girl with a round face, brown bobbed hair, and a snub nose.
[Grace Fryer] was an exceptionally bright and exceptionally pretty girl, with curly chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and clear-cut features. Many called her striking, but her looks weren’t of much interest to Grace.
[Edna Bolz] was nicknamed the “Dresden Doll” because of her beautiful golden hair and fair coloring; she also had perfect teeth and, perhaps as a result, a beaming smile.
[Hazel Vincent] had an oval face with a button nose and fair hair that she set in the latest styles.
[Albina Maggia] was a somewhat round and diminutive woman of only four foot eight, with classic Italian dark hair and eyes.
[Mollie Maggia] was a sociable nineteen-year-old with a broad face and bouffant brown hair.
Ella [Eckert] was popular and good-looking, with blond, slightly frizzy hair and a wide smile.
[Quinta Maggia] was an extremely attractive woman with large gray eyes and long dark hair; she considered her pretty teeth her best feature.
But it was the same thing affecting all the girls. It was radium, heading straight for their bones—yet, on its way, seeming to decide, almost on a whim, where to settle in the greatest degree. And so some women felt the pain first in their feet; in others, it was in their jaw; in others still their spine. It had totally foxed their doctors. But it was the same cause in all of them. In all of them, it was the radium.
As Catherine set Tommy down on a rug and watched him play, her mind went over her appointment.
Pearl started bleeding continuously, down below.
Tom was now in the hands of State Attorney Elmer Mohn, facing two criminal charges.
He told one worker, Katherine Moore, on eight separate occasions that there was not a single trace of radium in her body. She later died from radium poisoning.
“[ I] understood,” said Grace’s physician Dr. McCaffrey, who’d arranged her examination with Flinn, “that Dr. Flinn was an MD.”
But now, when Berry asked the authorities to look into exactly who Flinn was, he received the following letter from the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners: “Our records do not show the issuance of a license to practice medicine and surgery or any branch of medicine and surgery to Frederick B. Flinn.”
Flinn was not a medical doctor. His degree was in philosophy. He was, as the Consumers League put it, “a fraud of frauds.”