The Radium Girls


The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
By:  Kate Moore
Published:  2017
# of pages:  399
  Full House (non-fiction)


Goodreads description:

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…

My opinion:  Wow, I don’t really know how to start.  This book made a large impact on me.  I’m so thankful that Kate Moore chose to tell the story of “the radium girls,” so many courageous women who played such an important part of U.S. history.  

The book is a non-fiction that follows the stories of two groups of women who worked at two different dial painting companies that used paint containing radium to produce light up watches, clocks, and instrument panels.  One was in Orange, New Jersey and the other in Ottowa, Illinois.  Moore sketches brief biographies of many women, but she concentrates on ten women in particular: the women who chose to stand up and publicly fight the companies who were responsible for not only exposing them to radium poisoning, but purposefully deceiving them in regards to the danger.

It was horrifying to read much of this book.  I kept wishing I could go back in time and stop the women from trusting their supervisors and putting the brushes in their mouths to shape them, playing with the paint, eating at their desks, taking the paint home to let their siblings play with it, etc.  The descriptions of their physical health problems was also heartbreaking to read.  I was also so frustrated when they were trying to find both medical and legal help.  Not only do I feel so thankful to Moore for telling the stories of these women and what they went through to make the future a safer place, I feel so thankful for the few doctors, dentists, lawyers, and reporters who helped the women.  Those professionals, along with the women, are true U.S. heroes.

And one of my final thoughts – is this situation that seems so obvious to us today truly something that will stay in history?  Is there something today that we come into regular contact with/ingest/medicate with that is deemed safe by medical professionals and the government but is actually dangerous?  I’d say the average person in the U.S. is quick to say that certain vaccines, medications, etc. are safe because they are recommended by doctors, the FDA has approved them, etc, etc.  But perhaps we don’t  know everything and it’s only a matter of time before we are horrified to discover the side effects of something that seems so safe.  Just food for thought…

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Kate Moore did a fantastic job making a non-fiction book, including details and statistics, interesting and she also brought the women to life.  I was amazed that I had never heard of these women or even the aftermath that industries using radium had on the environment.  It’s important to hear more about these forgotten (hidden) parts of history.



4 thoughts on “The Radium Girls

  1. I just finished this book on Friday! I think, beyond the horrors of the factory workers, what got me was that radium was marketed as a cure-all, and the freaking industrial waste was sold to SCHOOLS for use as sand in their playgrounds!


    1. Yes! I was horrified to find out that the environmental impact in those cities lasted for so long! No wonder… since they thought the radium was so great they spread it all over the place.

      Liked by 1 person

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