Author: Kate Moore
Published Date: May 2, 2017
Genre: Nonfiction, history
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
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...
"When one of the greatest radium authorities in the world tells you that you have no need to worry, quite simply, you don't."
I knew a little bit about the radium girls, but nothing beyond the fact that they glowed after working all day.
In the early 20th century radium was discovered, and it became the new "it" thing to use and have. All types of things from medicine to things in the home were advertised to have radium in them. It's truly amazing that even though so many people knew it was dangerous still sold it as the thing to have and when it backfired the amount of cover-ups and back tracking by the companies is absolutely disgusting.
"All of the Katherine's life, radium had been a magnificent cure-all, treating not just cancer, but hay fever, gout, constipation.. anything you could think of. Pharmacists sold radioactive dressings and pills; there was also radium clinics and spas."
In the 1910's companies started popping up in america that painted clock dials using radium to make them glow. It was a good paying job and many women started working there including girls as young as fourteen. They would paint the radium on the clock's using a "lip, dip, paint" method, where they would literally be putting the radium covered paint brush in there mouth in order to make the tip as fine as possible so they would only get paint on the numbers and no where else. They were told this was completely safe, and that the small amount of radium they were getting was good for them and was actually going to make them healthier.
"We used to paint our eyebrows, our lips, and our eyelashes, and then look at ourselves in the darkroom."
But the truth was they weren't just ingesting the radium, it was going everywhere else as well which they could see when they went to the companies dark room. They literally glowed from head to toe, and they thought it was great fun. Some of them even purposefully would wear there best dresses to work in order to be able to glow that night when they went out on the town. Some companies even encourage the women to take some home in order to practice with it, meaning not only were they getting exposed to it at work, but now at home as well also putting their families at risk.
Most of the women didn't start getting sick until after they had left the company or if they did start showing signs of being sick while working they were let go. This doesn't mean that they didn't have concerns about the radium though, as time went on more and more of them started to notice things and questioned the companies. But time and time again they were assured that the radium was harmless and that the other women were sick for reasons outside of work.
"Hope. That was all he really wanted, to know that there was light at the end of the tunnel; that they could get through this and come out the other side into a shining day, and another one, and another day after that."
Another big problem was is that the small town doctors as well as big city doctors had no idea what was wrong with the ones that were sick. So instead the women were spending hundred of dollars on treatment that not only wasn't helping, but at times was making things even worse. The women and their families were determined to find out what was happening to them and how it could be fixed, no matter the price. Thousands of dollars were spent with no hope in sight for the women to be pain free or to even survive it seemed. With the help of determined city doctors and a lawyers that were determined to win their cases.
They were finally able to have a little bit of relief financially and physically. Some were even able to make it past their 70's if they were able to catch it early enough to prevent it from doing any major damage. Most though would die young, and the radium would even affect their family members.
"YOU FIGHT AND YOU FALL AND YOU GET UP AND FIGHT SOME MORE. But there will always come a day when you cannot fight another minute more."
Thank you to the women who gave everything they had to fight the companies, who didn't stop even when they were on their deathbeds. Just so there families and friends that they had worked with at the factory would have something in return for all the pain and judgment they had deserved. Who made it possible for things to be the way they are now in the workplace with the safety precautions and the benefits after getting sick from the job.
If you're interested I'm also going to leave the link to the documentary Radium City which covers the factory in Ottowa,Illinois.
Thank you to netgalley and sourcebooks for an e-arc of this book in exchange for my honest review.