Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
Release date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks 
Pages: 480
Genre: Historical Nonfiction 
Source: Purchased 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars 
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.

This was a challenging read. Wow. I had no idea this had happened and was continuously shocked by the awful experiences these "radium girls" had. During World War I, factories across the United States worked with radium to produce a multitude of products. One example is painting the dials on watches with radium so they will glow in the dark. This process is performed by young girls for hours every day. While they are at first excited by this new opportunity, the lack of knowledge on radium and then eventual undisclosed knowledge on the dangers of radium, leads to horrendous health problems and even death for many of these workers. 

RADIUM GIRLS follows several different, real, women who worked in these radium factories in New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut. Kate Moore did an incredible job of bringing these girls to life and I can't even begin to imagine what they went through. At first, many of the girls were excited to be working with this mysterious new element. They had a nice job, were earning money, and made fast friends with their coworkers during the long hours of sitting at the factory. 

Let me just say that when things got bad, they got bad. The girls were not simply in the room, working withe radium, they were putting it in their mouths. They were taught to wet the paintbrush, that they were using on the watch faces, in their mouths because it was supposedly faster and more efficient. Even when the factory owner and senior employees started to wonder if that was safe and offered cups of water instead, no one enforced it or told the girls to seriously stop putting the radium covered brushes in their mouths. You can only imagine, with what we know now, how horrible this was. 

The girls started to get sick one after the other. They were losing teeth, their jaw bones were falling apart, they couldn't walk, death was imminent for many of the radium girls. But yet, doctors were not connecting these symptoms with the radium work their patients did. So, many of the ill girls kept working with the radium and the rest of the girls at the factories continued with the "lip painting" without knowing they could or would be next. Just writing this review is making me emotional! These poor young women were dying off and no one understood it. 

I don't want to get too much into how the story progressed, even though it is history so you can research this on your own. THE RADIUM GIRLS was incredible at putting a face to this dark time in history and I would highly, highly recommend it. It is horrifying to me that these women were allowed to work in these dangerous conditions and then did not have any support. It took a long time before anyone was on their side and by then, for many of them, it was too late. A truly heartbreaking story and one I was completely unfamiliar with. At times gruesome, this is an important story for everyone to read. These girls deserve to have their stories heard and I am thankful Kate Moore has done that. 

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