The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Paperback, 477 pages

The year is 1917 and The Great War rages on. Meanwhile, in Orange, NJ, USA young women are thrilled to gain employment painting watch and clock faces as well as aeronautical equipment with luminescent paint. There was money to be made, good money and for women in 1917 with their whole lives ahead of them, what could better? What the women in Orange, NJ and later Waterbury, CT and Ottawa, IL, and New York City didn’t know was that the paint, which was made with radium, was probably going to kill them.

This is one of the most important books I have ever read. I knew a little bit about the story having heard about this book when I listened to the Radiation episode of This Podcast Will Kill You, but that barely scratched the surface of what these women endured. It also didn’t prepare me. I knew going into this book that it was going to be tough, but there were parts of this book that are fucking difficult to read. And really, that’s how it should be, because many of these women were victimized and then re-victimized and blamed over and over and over for something that they couldn’t have stopped because they didn’t know. In fact, they were outright lied to.

It’s difficult to put a lot of my thoughts about this book into review form, especially since a fair number of my review notes are along the lines of “wtf, wtf, wtf” and “fuck these old rich white guys who think they can do whatever they want.” That said, the author does an amazing job of bringing to light how strong these women are and how important their sacrifices are. Because these women fought the system, new industrial safety standards were created, research on the effects of radioactivity on the bodies of these women told us more about the potential dangers of exposure than we could have ever known otherwise. This is all in the face of men and corporations that fought to discredit their every word, even given the fact that many of the women were literally disintegrating in front of them.

For a book that handles such a difficult topic it was very easy to read. The way that Moore wrote this, it’s compelling. I knew I was going to end up getting teary eyed, but I still wanted to pick it up to find out what happened next. This isn’t just some dry rehashing of the legal cases the women fought, this book is about their lives. About the impact that their work painting with radium paints and using the lip-pointing techniques they were taught had on their lives, on their ability to be wives and mothers, and productive members of their society. It’s also candid. These women struggled and Moore does not sugarcoat that struggle. The words that detail their pain, fear, even hopelessness hit your insides with all the force they ought to. I felt every word I read in this book.

The Radium Girls tells a very important story, but it does more than that. This book is the definition of why science communication and literacy is SO important, even today. If you have the knowledge to make better, safer decisions a multitude of pain and suffering can be prevented. We can learn lots of lessons here. We NEED to learn lots of these lessons as a whole. This is truly inspiring, and honestly, I don’t think I will ever do anything as important in my life as these women did in theirs.

All in all, this is an important story that needed to be told and was told in a respectful, but compelling way. 100% worth a read. 5/5 stars.

4 thoughts on “The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

  1. Cyberkitten May 27, 2022 / 4:37 am

    I heard about this a while back. I think it was when I was reading: Timekeepers – How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield. Surprising though how a rich mega-corporation didn’t treat its employees better – especially women – and essentially blocked any compensation or recognition that they did anything wrong. I mean, that hardly EVER happens – right?

    • Hannah May 27, 2022 / 12:57 pm

      It’s insane, even today our lawmakers spend more time making laws to benefit corporations rather than people or even the environment. Kind of disgusting if you ask me. Yet that’s the world we live in until such a time as our actions start impacting the people with all that money and power in a big bad way. How depressing….

      • Cyberkitten May 27, 2022 / 1:59 pm

        Well, as I always say: No matter how bad things get, they can always get worse. [rotflmao]

        But at least we can look forward to the fact that, come the Revolution, those fuckers will be the first against the wall….

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