Volunteer Book Review: The Radium Girls
In this book review, BPL volunteer Keith shares his thoughts on The Radium Girls by Kate Moore:
I haven't always been a non-fiction fan, but after hearing about these girls while listening to a My Favorite Murder podcast with my daughter, I became intrigued with their real-life story. Taking place in the 1920’s and 30’s, the story unfolds around the lives (and painful deaths) of several young women who worked in factories in New Jersey and Illinois putting the luminescent paint onto clocks and watches which, in the process, exposed them to the effects of horrendous radium poisoning. So little was known about the adverse effects of radium at the time and it was touted as a miracle cure-all. What was known was that when mixed in a paint-like compound it provided the almost mystical glow that could be applied to watch faces and aviation instruments.
The low income wages of the day were no match for the exorbitant pay the young girls would receive working at the factories. Their job as dial painters was much sought after and brought them happiness. These were young girls, some as young as 15. They loved their jobs, had many friends, partied, and lived life to the fullest. At least it started that way.
The working conditions were exceptional for the day, with bright and clean work spaces. However, it was the method with which the girls applied the deadly paint that eventually caused their demise. Dipping, then licking the paintbrushes to get a fine point, then painting was the universal process every employee followed. Slowly ingesting the radium day in and day out actually caused them to internally glow like a ghost.
This book doesn’t read like most non-fiction stories; it is more like a true crime drama. I found myself caring about each girl and her unknowing plight. I found myself so upset reading these stories of real women at the mercy of businesses who see them only as a potential risk to the bottom cash line. I actually felt that little has changed 100 years later.
This story spares you nothing of the girls suffering. The author is intent on making you viscerally understand the pain in which these young women were living and through which they had to fight in order to get their problems recognized. It is a very heart wrenching and at times infuriating ride through their individual lives. I consider this book a MUST READ for anyone! There was so much I learned about a little known subject and I thoroughly enjoyed it.