Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

First Line from Prologue: The scientist had forgotten all about the radium.
During the years of World War I, one element was the Be All and End All of modern life: radium. From body lotion to tonic water, it was the fresh face of beauty and the wonder drug of the age. In addition, the huge demand for illuminated faces on watches and instruments made dial-painting the best-paid job for young women, and they lined up by the hundreds to work at the radium-dial factories, some of them as young as fourteen and fifteen. 

The women were quickly taught that the best way to paint the dials was to lip point the brushes that had been dipped in the radium mixture. Radium dust floated freely in the factories, and the girls loved how they glowed like fireflies at night. Life was a lark... until they began to fall mysteriously ill.

When the women began to step forward and speak out about what was happening to them, they found themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals in early twentieth-century America-- and in a ground-breaking battle for workers' rights.


After reading Moore's The Woman They Could Not Silence and having it be one of my Best Reads of the Year, I remembered that I had a copy of Radium Girls, so I had to read it, too. Guess what? Radium Girls is also one of my Best Reads of the Year, which means that whenever Kate Moore has a new book published, I'm buying it.

Moore's writing style brings all the people involved, all the facts, to life. Reading from today's more enlightened perspective, what people were doing with radium in the early twentieth century was not only nauseating but horrifying. (For example, the radium waste from the dial-painting factories looked like sand, so it was offloaded to schools for their playground sandboxes.) But, you have to cut them some slack. These people didn't realize the time bomb they were treating so cavalierly. That all changed once it became known how deadly radium is.
The corporate greed shown boggled the mind as well as the legal wranglings to avoid having their profits cut into. The unbridled greed wasn't surprising, and neither was the difference in the companies' reactions to what was done when it was discovered male lab workers were becoming ill versus what was done when the female dial painters became ill. 
Moore outlines just what these young women had to endure, both physically and mentally, as they fought for justice. And what a group of women! Knowing it was already too late for them, they continued to fight their legal battles for those who would follow after them. What makes this piece of history even more poignant is how Moore brings each woman to life. These women weren't just court cases with gruesome physical wounds; Moore reminds readers how pretty they were. How they liked to spend those high wages they were making. The clothes and hats they liked to wear. How they loved parties and planned for their weddings and dreamed of the children they would have. How they laughed and loved and found strength they didn't even know they had. In showing how they lived, not just how they died, Moore puts the heart and soul into this chapter of history-- and makes it a chapter we should all know and remember.
Kate Moore, thank you for bringing Catherine Wolfe Donohue, Katherine Schaub, Grace Fryer, Margaret Looney, Pearl Payne, and the other Radium Girls back into the spotlight. Their stories should never be forgotten.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
eISBN: 9781492649366
Sourcebooks © 2017
eBook, 404 pages
Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. I'd heard that this was excellent, Cathy, and it's good to know you thought so, too. What an interesting historical subject, and it sounds as though it also takes a look at the times. Definitely my sort of read, so it just got bumped up on the wish list!

  2. Although I've heard about the scandal, but don't know all of the details. It sounds like something that needs to be read and kept in the forefront of the way we often neglect to warn or care for our fellow human beings.

  3. I meant to read this book a few years ago but never got around to it. Thanks for reminding me about it! Back on my list it goes. :)

  4. This book sounds very good. Reminds me of Karen Silkwood investigating a dangerous toxin and she suddenly died. A good movie featuring Cher, I believe.

    1. Yes. Cher, Kurt Russell, and Meryl Streep.

  5. This hust makes me so sad and angry. And reading "Zorrie," in which characters even drank radium innocently, just makes this so awful.

    1. Yes, radium water was quite popular at that time, although the rich tended to be the ones who drank it.


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