My Review of Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls

Kate Moore has written a gritty, gut wrenching and gut retching, story about a group of young women that ninety years ago fought both for their lives, the lives of their equally young and promising co-workers, and for safety in the workplace. They had so much to look forward to – life, love, and all that is part of them. But, they, as did many others, succumbed to the hideous effects of a radioactive substance called Radium.

Known by the moniker, The Radium Girls, these women who lived in two disparate towns, urban Orange New Jersey and the Illinois prairie town of Ottawa, Illinois, have their names made known by Moore alongside their tragic story in her book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebooks, 2017)

The fascination with the nature of radium in the second and third decades of the 1900’s included its use in paint that was applied on watch dials and then added to toothpaste, make-up, and other consumer products. But when young vibrant women such as Katherine Schaub, who began working for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in 1917, began developing serious and incurable health issues – dental decay and loss, tumors, hip and leg issues, the truth about the radioactivity of radium and its devastating and deadly effects on the human body began to be seen and eventually investigated.

Divided into three sections – Part One: Knowledge; Part Two: Power; Part Three: Justice – Moore does what she sets out to do as noted in her introduction – to tell the stories of the individual women behind the moniker “The Radium Girls.” She does it well.

The Radium Girls is not an easy read at times.  It is graphic as Moore describes the facial decay of some of the women whose teeth and jaws disintegrate because they are trained to ‘lip’ their fine brushes in their mouths, then ‘dip’ their brush in the paint, and then ‘paint’ their dials.  “lip…dip…paint.”

But The Radium Girls is also essential reading. It is a story with profound implications for workplace safety, consumer protections, and corporate responsibilities. It is a history of American labor and business practices and law. It is a story about responsibility. It is a story about the delicate balance between jobs and profits against responsibility and worker safety.

The Radium Girls will be an excellent addition to classes in undergraduate and graduate courses in history, sociology,  business, and in even law and medical school classes.

I gave this this book a 4-Star review on Goodreads

Note: I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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