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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women Kindle Edition
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Radium was widely heralded as a wondrous new substance after it was first isolated by the Curies. It appeared to have an infinite number of uses, one of the first of which was to make the numbers on clocks and watches easier to see. Workers were needed to coat the dials with radium paint, and the best and most efficient workers were women and girls, some as young as 14 or 15. The work was pleasant and sociable: the women sat around tables painting, moistening the thin brushes in their mouths before they dipped them into the paint, chatting, eating, and drinking while they worked, sometimes taking extra paint home with them to practice with, sometimes painting their teeth, faces, hair, and clothing to make them sparkly. When they left the studio their clothing would be covered with radium dust, and would glow ghost-like in the night. The pay was good and the work was easy, but then some of the women started having strange pains in their mouths and bones. Their teeth would loosen and fall out and their jaws, legs, and ankles would develop permanent aches or even crumble.
After some of the women died and more became ill the companies making large profits on radium rushed to dismiss any hint that the work was unsafe. Victims and their families sought relief and assistance, but found they were responsible for their own mounting medical bills. The federal, state, and local governments all disavowed any responsibility. Eventually publicity stemming from lawsuits filed by some of the victims (using their own scanty resources) focused enough attention on the problem that governments felt compelled to set safety standards and regulations.
The Radium Girls is a horrifying read. The careless ways in which radium was handled, the indifference of the radium using industries and the governments involved to the safety of the women painters (in contrast to the men who worked to produce the radium, who were protected by lead shields), and the pain and suffering of the women themselves are appalling. The safety regulations and restrictions which were finally put into place hardly seem adequate, and the Epilogue and Postscript giving details of the women's later lives, as well as an account of another industry that made careless use of radium as late as the 1970s, are especially harrowing.
This is a well written, meticulously research and documented, account of tragedies that never should have been. The radium girls' lives can't be returned to them, but thanks to Kate Moore we can remember, and learn, from their pain.
This book is excellent and gives amazing historical background pertaining to the inauguration of workers compensation, liability, and medical advancements. It is definitely a very emotional charged book. I would highly recommend this book.
Kate Moore has done an amazing job of recreating their stories, with the assistance of family members, letters, diaries, medical reports, and case notes from the son of the attorney who handled their cases. Moores extensive research results in an amazing story, appalling as the facts may be. It truly is a great read!
Top international reviews
Moore's story revolves around dial-painters, girls (some just teenagers) and women employed to paint the numbers on clocks, watches and other instruments using radium-infused luminous paint. Trained to shape the brushes by putting them in their mouths, they ingest quantities of radium, assured by the company that it'll put roses in their cheeks...
It's frightening to see how these young women think it's glamorous to go home with their hands, faces and clothes glowing in the dark - and their innocence at eating lunch at the same tables at which they work with the radium paint. Only later, they start to get ill...
Moore does a fine job of keeping the balance between her big story of corporate lies and cover-ups, and the intimate, personal histories of the 'radium girls' themselves. The accounts of their sufferings are hard-hitting, and we're incensed at the way they are dismissed by fat-cat company directors concerned with protecting their profits, an uncaring burgeoning radium industry, a largely ignorant medical profession and the red-tape of legal bureaucracy that is ill-fitted to deal with their cases.
There are places where Moore's own emotions get the better of her and she inserts emotive asides or trembles barely on the right side of sentimentality - but these are fewer than some of the negative reviews make out and, honestly, this is such a gut-wrenching tale that I could understand and forgive.
Most of all, this is utterly compelling reading - one of those books that I couldn't wait to get back to: a must-read.
But, before long, the dial-painters start to experience ailments that just won't go away - bone decay, skin lesions, ulcerations that worsen with any attempt to treat them, confounding the doctors they consult until the common thread of radium is identified. So begins the women's struggle to have radium poisoning recognised as a condition, fighting against the might of the lucrative and powerful radium industry to receive compensation - and the radium industry will go to shocking lengths to cover up the dangers.
Kate Moore's book is a detailed account of the Radium Girls' experience, told partly in a novelistic style, which I felt worked well - the women's characters are brought to life through small imagined details of daily life, against a backdrop of factual information drawn from contemporary material. Moore successfully explains the importance of the women's experience in the wider context of medical science, and attitudes towards nuclear research in the later 20th century, and I think does justice to their tenacity in fighting a legal battle despite many setbacks and unimaginable physical suffering, to create a legacy from which society has continued to benefit.
It is a harrowing read; the illustrations showing the women are particularly sad - one can see all too clearly their frailty, but the story told is important and deserves a wide audience - it would make an excellent subject for a film. I was gripped from start to finish.
As the book is pretty long, maybe the story would reach more people (as it should) if it becomes a proper movie, let's see. I
The story is told in a way that just sucks you in and makes you feel a part of what unfolds in it's often brutal manner. The behaviour of certain companies will fuel the anger in you, but the reaction of certain doctors will make your blood boil with rage and disbelief. How ANY of this could happen in a modern (by 1920-30's standards) country like the USA, just filled me with horror, particularly as the evidence of harmful practices was so utterly overwhelming yet not only was nothing done to address it, but facts were actively covered up.
I found myself sobbing hard during one chapter and had to put the book down and walk away in an effort to compose myself. It was that hard-hitting.
The girls - and their families - went through unimaginable torture in their often short and painful lives, yet 'big business' cared not a jot. Vile behavior from some vile people.
This is the book of the century, in my opinion, if only because it let this horrific event be told to everyone - and for only 99 pence? There is no excuse NOT to buy it.
I found it especially interesting to read more about what happened with her most famous discovery, radium. The main characters in the book, the girls themselves, were portrayed brilliantly and sympathetically. You’d have to be stone-hearted to not be moved and inspired by them.
The only reason I didn’t give 5 stars was I found the physical description of every girl felt a bit jarring as I read. I understand why it was done, but I still didn’t feel it necessary and found it pulled me out of an otherwise gripping narrative. I did get more or less used to it but it bothered me.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with the slightest interest. It’s a thoroughly fascinating tale. Maybe it would open some eyes to the way firms act to protect their commercial interests - whilst they may be a little less brazen about it these days it’s still very much in practice.
We live in a world where too many of the most powerful corporations prey without conscience on the rest of us in the name of profit, a world where a few brave and conscience driven individuals have the courage, drive and tenacity to try to fight back.
Sugar and Wheat, Fossil fuels and Petrochemicals, Fertilizers and Pesticides, Armaments, Nuclear Power, Deforestation to name a very few - they affect and potentially damage all our lives, we are probably unaware of most of what is happening and so bombarded with media alarms and alerts that we become inert and blase.
This book must be read and the wider lesson learned... We live in a much more dangerous world than we did 100 years ago and this book carries the warning.
The reactions of the companies who employed them was deplorable and so horrible to read about, and so upsetting to read about what happened to these girls but still such an important story, we all could learn something from their stories and I am heartened to know that something came from their deaths - employment law that keeps employees safer!
I would definately recommend this book but be ready to be shocked and stock up on tissues!
Their agony, their fear and their frustration was apparent and made for difficult reading.
However it is their strength of spirit that shines through this book, not the radium.
Those who added to their distress, shamelessly, time after time, are forgotten, but these women have earned their place in history. I raise my glass to them.