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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

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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.

479 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 2016

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5 stars
57,399 (42%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 17,212 reviews
Profile Image for Nadine in NY Jones.
2,811 reviews227 followers
October 21, 2017
I REALLY did not like this. I got so angry reading this because the writing bugged me SO much that I may be somewhat unkind in this review, and I feel bad about that, because I think this is a worthwhile book and Moore's heart was in the right place when she wrote it. But ... Moore's writing style really bugged me. Because, in a book about children and young people working in factories and being poisoned by radium, the last thing I care about is how pretty they were.

[Katherine Schaub] was an attractive girl of just fourteen; her fifteenth birthday was in five weeks’ time. Standing just under five foot four, she was “a very pretty little blonde” with twinkling blue eyes, fashionably bobbed hair, and delicate features.


As time went on, she got to know her colleagues better. One was Josephine Smith, a sixteen-year-old girl with a round face, brown bobbed hair, and a snub nose.


[Grace Fryer] was an exceptionally bright and exceptionally pretty girl, with curly chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and clear-cut features. Many called her striking, but her looks weren’t of much interest to Grace.


[Edna Bolz] was nicknamed the “Dresden Doll” because of her beautiful golden hair and fair coloring; she also had perfect teeth and, perhaps as a result, a beaming smile.


[Hazel Vincent] had an oval face with a button nose and fair hair that she set in the latest styles.


[Albina Maggia] was a somewhat round and diminutive woman of only four foot eight, with classic Italian dark hair and eyes.


[Mollie Maggia] was a sociable nineteen-year-old with a broad face and bouffant brown hair.


Ella [Eckert] was popular and good-looking, with blond, slightly frizzy hair and a wide smile.


[Quinta Maggia] was an extremely attractive woman with large gray eyes and long dark hair; she considered her pretty teeth her best feature.

These descriptions go on and on every time a new woman is introduced (and sometimes men are described the same way). I suppose Moore thinks it makes them more relatable. And, based on the number of five star reviews, she may be right. But it didn't work for me.

The vast amount of information was a bit much, and I didn't bother to keep track of every single person, I just sort of surfed along the top - it's great that Moore did her research thoroughly, but I didn't need to hear about every detail. (And don't try to eat lunch while reading this! There's a lot of pus exploding and bones disintegrating right out of their bodies ...) I never stopped being annoyed by the insistence on describing the young women's appearance - as if what happened to them was more awful because they started out so pretty. I kept reading, I just did my best to skip over all the rest of the detailed appearance descriptions.

The writing was perhaps more appropriate to an American Girl novel:
But it was the same thing affecting all the girls. It was radium, heading straight for their bones—yet, on its way, seeming to decide, almost on a whim, where to settle in the greatest degree. And so some women felt the pain first in their feet; in others, it was in their jaw; in others still their spine. It had totally foxed their doctors. But it was the same cause in all of them. In all of them, it was the radium.

It. Had. Totally. Foxed. Their. Doctors. Like, totally.

But I soldiered on. I grew up just a bit south from Newark and Orange, NJ, and it's always interesting to learn more about the area.

The writing never improved. Moore regularly makes assumptions about the thoughts and feelings of the women, which is fine in a novelization, but feels unprofessional here:
As Catherine set Tommy down on a rug and watched him play, her mind went over her appointment.

Now, come ON. There is no way this was recorded. No one knows what Catherine was thinking in that moment.

Additionally, some odd language is used, almost childish at times:
Pearl started bleeding continuously, down below.

"Down below"? We can't say "vagina" now?

And, perhaps most irritating of all (well, of all except Moore's bizarre fondness for repetition - THAT was really irritating!) is the choice to end many (most? all? I don't care enough to go back and check) chapters on a cliffhanger:
Tom was now in the hands of State Attorney Elmer Mohn, facing two criminal charges.

Dun-dun-DUNNNNNN .... Is this the latest James Patterson? Continue to the next chapter to find out what happens to Tom!

This passage in the second section jumped out at me:
He told one worker, Katherine Moore, on eight separate occasions that there was not a single trace of radium in her body. She later died from radium poisoning.

You would think the author, Kate Moore, would comment on the name, but she does not. Is this a distant relation? We will never know.

A rather egregious error does make me wonder about how accurate all of Moore's other assertions are:
“[ I] understood,” said Grace’s physician Dr. McCaffrey, who’d arranged her examination with Flinn, “that Dr. Flinn was an MD.”

But now, when Berry asked the authorities to look into exactly who Flinn was, he received the following letter from the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners: “Our records do not show the issuance of a license to practice medicine and surgery or any branch of medicine and surgery to Frederick B. Flinn.”

Flinn was not a medical doctor. His degree was in philosophy. He was, as the Consumers League put it, “a fraud of frauds.”

That made me wonder, so I used The Google and quickly found that Flinn had a PhD in Industrial Hygiene, so while he was surely a two-faced shyster, he was not wholly unqualified. His degree was not "in philosophy." Moore seems to have confused a "PhD" (short for Philosophiae Doctor, or Doctor of Philosphy) with a doctorate degree in philosophy. Yikes. That's an embarrassing mistake for an author! And where are her fact checkers?? I mean, I'm NoName Nancy here, not even reading carefully, and I noticed it!

This is an important story, and I'm glad it's been told, I just wish it wasn't told this way.

I found this 35 page article online, originally published in the 1997 Missouri Law Review, and I recommend it as an alternative, if you want to be informed yet avoid this particular pile of excess verbiage entirely: The New Jersey Radium Dial Workers and the Dynamics of Occupational Disease Litigation in the Early Twentieth Century.

My advice: read the Missouri Law Review article, read the epilogue and post script of Radium Girls, and call it a day. The rest of the book is just ... not good.

If you want to read a novelization based on other historical events in Paterson NJ (not about radium), I recommend: Girl Waits with Gun.

N.B.: Do NOT listen to the audio version of this book, it's terrible. (And I love audiobooks.). I noped my way out of that audiobook faster than you can say "radium poisoning," and switched to the ebook to finish.

Word count: number of times "Lip, dip, paint" (or variant "lip, dip") appears: 11 (including twice in the endnotes). I started feeling very stabby every time I saw it. Lip ... Dip ... Fuck off.
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,482 reviews79k followers
December 5, 2017
Congratulations-winner of Best Historical & Biography 2017!

I'm going to try and not cry while writing this review. I actually read this one back at the beginning of October, but I was too emotional to write a review straight away and have avoided it since. Sometimes I have trouble with emotions; for many years I avoided some of the richest books with the highest quality stories because I simply was terrified of having to process the heavy feelings behind them. I've slowly begun working on this issue, and while I can't read a slew of emotional books in a row, I have begun to place them strategically in my line up. I think the hardest part about this one is it's real; these women existed in our world and suffered the things discussed in this book which tears my heart into little pieces. I've watched firsthand how cancer can ravage the body of someone you love, but that was just a small piece of the hell these brave warriors had to endure. Ugh, grab a hanky and let's get going.

This was not a book I could race through; I read another review stating how she had to pick up the book and place it down in what felt like 2 minute increments-this is exactly how it felt slowly trudging through this story. My initial interest in the history behind "the radium girls" spawned after reading another book that had a small chapter of information in it titled Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid (highly recommend this book even to those crime fiction fans who do not typically read non-fiction as this read like fiction!). After the brief intro into their story, I knew I had to find out more. I was blown away at their courage and strength which is portrayed in this book as well. The hardest part about reading this one was the depth it went into to ensure we understand just how much these women suffered and how honorable their fight was to fight those who placed them in this position and find justice.

One of the most important takeaways I found though was how proud and honored this story made me feel to be a woman. These females were a class act; they were determined during a time when women were considered second class citizens. We could certainly use some role models such as these in today's world; the example of the strength in numbers and how to hold each other up when you are falling apart, physically and emotionally, was not lost on me. I found myself going to great lengths wondering what happened to our society between now and then; have the subtle advancements for women caused us to compete with each other in seclusion rather than band together while building one another up? I feel like I could ramble on for days regarding this book, but if you can stomach the horror and emotion regarding this much overlooked part of our history, I think it will ensure deep reflection and cause us to question some of how we approach living our lives and what we hold important. I know I'll hold this story deep in my soul for the rest of my life, it was that powerful.

*I'd like to thank the author and publisher for providing my copy via NetGalley; it was my pleasure to provide an honest review.
Profile Image for Yun.
521 reviews21.7k followers
May 7, 2022
When radium was first discovered, no one really knew for sure what it did. Soon, however, companies latched onto its lucrative potential when it became known that radium mixed in paint had a glow-in-the-dark quality. Hundreds of girls were employed to paint watch dials and instrument panels with this magical, luminescent paint.

The girls took no precautions. They were instructed to lick the paint brushes to bring the bristles to a sharp point in order to do their jobs effectively and to prevent waste. It wasn't long before the women started falling sick with mysterious symptoms that no doctor could correctly diagnose. The symptoms were extremely painful and gruesome, and often irreversible.

Yet when their employers were told of this, they dismissed the girls' illnesses as nothing more than fear-mongering. The companies concealed data on the effects of radium and lied with impunity to the girls and the public. What followed was a long and arduous journey for the girls to bring recognition and justice to their plight.

What makes The Radium Girls so fascinating is that Moore brings these girls to life with her meticulously-researched details. She shows that they aren't just tragic figures but also deeply sympathetic souls. They lost so much of their life to this terrible poison and it was made even more unbearable by the companies' callous reactions to their sufferings. The accounts are vivid and gut-wrenching, often leaving me in tears.

I'm glad Moore chose to tell this necessary story, so that the memories of these girls who gave so much to science and to their fight for worker's rights will live on.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
February 5, 2018
“I can’t laugh about those poor women who painted the clocks,” said Sarah. “That’s one thing I can’t laugh about.”

“Nobody wants you to.” said her grandmother. “You run along now.”

Sarah was referring to an industrial tragedy that was notorious at the time. Sarah’s family was in the middle of it, and sick about it. Sarah had already told me that she was sick about it, and so had her brother, my roommate, and so had their father and mother. The tragedy was a slow one that could not be stopped once it had begun, and it began in the family’s clock company, the Wyatt Clock Company, one of the oldest companies in the United States, in Brockton, Massachusetts. It was an avoidable tragedy. The Wyatts never tried to justify it, and would not hire lawyers to justify it. It could not be justified.

It went like this: In the nineteen twenties the United States Navy awarded Wyatt Clock a contract to produce several thousand standardized ships’ clocks that could be easily read in the dark. The dials were to be black. The hands and the numerals were to be hand-painted with white paint containing the radioactive element radium. About half a hundred Brockton women, most of them relatives of regular Wyatt Clock Company employees, were hired to paint the hands and numerals. It was a way to make pin money. Several of the women who had young children to look after were allowed to do the work at home.

Now all those women had died or were about to die most horribly with their bones crumbling, with their heads rotting off. The cause was radium poisoning. Every one of them had been told by a foreman, it had since come out in court, that she should keep a fine point on her brush by moistening it and shaping it with her lips from time to time.

Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut (1979)

Charlotte Purcell, one of the painters, demonstrates the lip-pointing technique that they used to get the brushes to a fine point. Chicago Daily Times

In the real world, the girls mostly worked because they needed the money. They painted watch faces and instrument dials with paint containing radium from 1910-1935. They didn’t all die, many of them did, and the destruction of their bones was horrific. Their employers did fight the girl's lawsuits and fought dirty.

Kate Moore tells the Radium Girls stories their personalities, hopes and friendships. She makes them more than a group of anonymous plaintiffs. The term 'girls' is accurate at the time of their employment licking and painting with radioactive material. They were so very young at twenty-eight, Sarah Maillefer appeared matronly to her teenaged coworkers. Some of them were little more than children, “records show that some were as young as eleven.” At the Ottawa, Illinois factory, they played in the radium using surplus paint on their eyelashes and lips painting. The same as the Brazillian children played with the blue “carnival glitter” in the Goiânia. The results were lethal, although for workers exposed to and consuming radium all day the play is unlikely to have a measurable increase in toxicity. The dial painters are estimated to have 500 times the radiation limit.

I kept remembering an interview with Fuzhou factory owner, Roger Wong, in the 2005 documentary, “Mardi Gras: Made in China.” 95% of his factory’s workforce are women mainly teenage girls because it is “easier to control the lady workers.” The toxin there is to Styrene, which impacts brain and nerve function as well as a suspected carcinogen. The working conditions and pay are worse than the clean factories and good jobs of the dial painters.

Nine women among fourteen plaintiffs seeking compensation from Radium Dial Company for asserted permanent injury suffered as a result of poisoning contracted through work painting radium on watch dials, Feb. 11, 1938. (AP Photo/Carl Linde)

Their legal victory 1939, after eight appeals, and the public awareness it raised led to the occupational safety regulations which protect us to this day.

Profile Image for Debra .
2,419 reviews35.2k followers
March 26, 2018
4.5 Stars

Imagine you have your first job. Imagine how proud you are. Or maybe it is not your first job, but it is a fun job where you get to socialize if you get your job done. A job that allows you to do something important for your country. Imagine you are helping your friends and sisters obtain a job as well. Imagine you work with a super cool substance which glows in the dark. A substance you believe is safe - your employer tells you is safe. A substance that one young woman painted on her own teeth before a date. A substance that Thomas Edison deemed dangerous. A substance you paint on. A substance that some women were known to eat the paint because they enjoyed it.

Now, imagine how painful it must be to have your teeth fall out, to have your jaw come out, to have the bones in your face disintegrate. Imagine your bones begin to hurt so bad you can barely move. Imagine one leg suddenly becoming 4 inches shorter than the other. Imagine bleeding to death. Imagine giving birth to a stillborn baby. Imagine going from being young and healthy to being dead in less than a week.

The poor women in this book did not have to imagine any of these things because they lived this. This book is about the young women who wanted to do their part to help the war effort during World War I. These women worked in radium factories painting the faces on clocks. They were working with a luminous material and were come to be called as the "shining girls" They took a tremendous amount of pride in their jobs and many liked that they could "glow" in the dark. But then one by one they began having dental problems. The dental problems were only the beginning.

The women began to die horribly painful deaths. Their loved ones left with questions unanswered. Most of the women were misdiagnosed in the beginning. Eventually their deaths became connected and the dangers of radium and radium poisoning were known. Thus, began a huge scandal and a fight for workers’ rights.

The writing of this book was captivating. I found myself absorbed in these women's stories. Even as they were dying, these women tried hard to complete their doctor’s tests to determine if radium was to blame for their impending death. The Author did a wonderful job in bringing these women's stories to life. To show how they and their families had to battle for their rights. How a company can deny accountability and turn their back on these women. How their loved ones and lawyers fought for them and their rights.

Wowza. What a wonderfully informative, sad, hopeful and interesting book. I learned a lot. I love when a book makes me think, feel, and learn. I had all these things going on when I read this book. I highly recommend this book.

I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,198 reviews3,035 followers
February 18, 2023
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
by Kate Moore, Angela Brazil (Narrator)

Using original interviews, diaries, letters, and court accounts, Kate Moore brings us the true stories of the working class women who were harmed (to put it mildly) by the radium paint that they used to do their jobs at companies that produced lighted dials for watches, clocks and military equipment. As time passed it became obvious that many of the women were suffering from devastating illnesses and injuries only to be told over and over by the companies that their health problems could not be caused by the radium paint because it was perfectly safe. 

These women suffered the loss of most or all of their teeth, parts their jaw bones breaking off and being expelled through pus filled holes in their mouths, honey combed bones, anemia, sarcomas, removal of body parts, infertility, miscarriages, hemorrhaging from various parts of the body, and living in perpetual pain for months, years, or decades. The companies actively blamed the women for their misfortunes, aiming to destroy the reputations of the women who were dying due to workplace poisoning. 

One of the methods to do the job with minimum waste of material and time was to put the paint brushes, radium paint and all, into their mouths to make the best point on the brush. The women were taught to do this and would do so all throughout a day's work. But even without that dangerous method of doing their job, the women and their clothing were covered with radium each day and that dust went to their homes when they left work at the end of the day. 

The women and their families often went into great debt attempting the impossible feat of healing the women when doctors and dentists were unable to tell them what was causing their illnesses. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, and more were paid off by the companies to hide, deny, and placate the women while the companies continued hiring and employing women to do their job with the material that the companies knew were killing the women. Without the tenaciousness of ailing and dying women, these companies would never have admitted the harm that they allowed to continue for years. 

As I listened to the audiobook I would stop and read the captions that went with the pictures of many of the women who fought to have their plight and that of others like them, recognized. The link below allowed me to see the women and know more about them and their families. 


Published May 2nd 2017
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
May 16, 2017
What seemed like a fun, good paying job, especially for the times turns into an epic nightmare of pain and suffering for the girls who worked with radium, hand painting dials. My eldest granddaughter lived in Ottawa for a time and it is a town that is quaint, charming and has a great state park, Starved Rock, that we have gone to for years. I never knew about this factory nor anything about the history of these poor girls before this book. The author deserves kudos for bringing this huge miscarriage to the attention of readers.

Why I gave it only three stars. I think probably if you read it will depend on what you are looking for, and once again I found a blurb misleading. I though I would get to know these girls with a bit more depth, but so many girls are mentioned that was virtually Impossible though some are mentioned more often then others. The skipping around between the plants, the two locations was a bit disruptive and confusing at times. Their suffering, the horror of what they eventually go through, so many died, so young, this does come through, loud and clear, rightfully so. Still all that I mentioned, did make for repetitious reading.

I expected a more straightforward narrative, an intimate narrative account,and that is not this book, though I am very glad I read it. Big companies, doing bad things, hiding things for profit, are still and always will I believe happen. Avarice and greed are two of the seven deadly sins for a reason. Makes me wonder what we are doing today, eating or taking that we think is wonderful, that will turn out to be detrimental.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,796 reviews2,388 followers
August 9, 2021

4.5 Stars rounded up

I wanted to showcase their shining spirits in a book that would tell their story – not just the story of the famous professionals who had helped them.

I aimed to chart their journey: from the joy of their first lucrative paycheck, through the first aching tooth, to the courage each girl had to find inside herself in order to fight back against the employer who had poisoned her.

I wanted to walk their routes to work and visit their homes and graves. I wished to trace the path between the Maggia sisters’ houses and appreciate how difficult it must have been to manage the steep, sloping hill with a radium-induced limp.

Seventeen young women, some very young, with a lifetime of promise ahead of them. In a time when jobs were scarce and glamorous jobs were few and far between, landing a job with Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in Newark, New Jersey was considered a coup. A factory job, in essence, but they referred to it as a studio, these girls were paid to paint watch dial numerals and hands with a luminous substance that made them visible in the dark. On 1 February 1917, Katherine Schaub was making her way to “the studio” for her first day on the job. Katherine was just fourteen years old.

Radium. Its virtues were extolled everywhere one looked. Magazines, newspapers called it the greatest find of history. New radium products popped up with claims of everything from improved health to being the answer to eternal life. Katherine only saw it as beautiful, a luminous glow.

At first, Katherine was trained by Mae Cubberly. Another young woman, Mae was twenty years old. Using very fine paintbrushes, she instructed Katherine in the technique that all of the dial painters were taught. Lip-pointing: putting the brushes in their mouths to make the tip finer, a technique learned from girls who formerly worked in china-painting factories. Mae even lets her know that she had been worried about ingesting the radium and asked if the radium would hurt them, but had been told it wasn’t dangerous, if anything it would be beneficial. Lip…Dip…Paint.

When working in the “darkroom,” Katherine would call in workers, and could see the signs of the luminous paint on the worker, on the clothes, on the lips, on face and hands, shining.

They looked glorious, like otherworldly angels.

And then America joined the war in Europe.

Demand increased. The company opened a plant in Orange, New Jersey, not too far from the Newark factory. The company expanded right into the middle of a residential neighborhood, and some of the new workers hired lived there. Grace Fryer, eighteen – her two brothers would be heading to France to fight alongside millions. Irene Corby, seventeen. Of course, the new girls were learning to “Lip…Dip…Paint.”

And years pass, it’s the early 1920s, some girls had left the radium company, but it was never long before their spot was filled with some young, new girl thrilled to land this glamorous job. Some of the girls began to complain of being tired, mysterious and unrelenting pains. Some left to find other jobs, some just left, incapable of the demands any longer. Keep in mind that the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was only ratified in 1920. In a world dominated by men, these mysterious illnesses were cast off as frivolous, “women’s complaints.”

This is the story of their fight to be heard, of their fight to find the real cause of these myriad plagues that beset them. Who would be the ones to champion their cause, and who would be those rich and powerful men who would not only deceive them, deny their own wrong-doing, lying through their teeth, making empty promises of recompense which would later be denied or reneged on.

Heartbreaking as it is, these stories are not about delicate little flowers who fall trembling at the feet of the rich and powerful. These are women, who, though physically weakened, found the strength and determination to do what needed to be done - not only themselves or their families, but to protect those still working with radium, and everyone in the future.

This is a well-researched story, and it shows. The sense of injustice is palpable, the story flows evenly, but varies from the fact-delivering, non-fictional voice as the author enters more emotional territory and paints the picture of scenes one could only imagine without her words. A compelling account of another era, the evolution of the rights of the average worker, but especially those working women whose voices they tried, in vain, to suppress and invalidate.

Published: 1 May 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Sourcebooks
Profile Image for Peter.
2,779 reviews499 followers
January 25, 2020
What a brilliant and interesting book on the greatest scandal in the watch industry ever. Here you come across the dangers of radium and dial painting. You'll read the shocking progression of the radium disease in the female workers and how their job turned into a nightmare. This is really moving. The author did a brilliant job with her book and her thorough research of all the biographies and persons involved in. When more and more workers got ill (the medical history is meticulously drawn here) the watch companies were sued. In the beginning right was not given to the workers, the companies renamed their names but the longer the painting process went, the more people got affected and justice had to react. After almost 20 years workers got compensation and money for the costly treatments. What a story about greed and cover-up! Absolutely must read and turning point for work safety. Gosh, those workers suffered immensely from the radium disease and this is some of the most gruesome realistic horror I ever came across. Lip, Dip, paint... and die! Phenomenal book and absolutely recommended!
Profile Image for Evelina | AvalinahsBooks.
879 reviews446 followers
February 17, 2019
They were called The Girls With Radioactive Bones.

There were newspaper headlines such as ' Living Dead' Win In Court' about them.

And all that – almost a hundred years ago.

I'm going to tell you a very painful, sad, but strong story of fighting for your rights, for justice, for your honor even. So let's start.

If there was ever a time that I wanted to believe the Christian hell with burning pits of fire, it would be when reading The Radium Girls. It's because you can sell anything. You can make people believe the worst poison is a cure. You can sell other people's lives. And in the process, sell your own soul. And that's what the burning hell is there for.

So if you still haven't heard what The Radium Girls is about, let it be my pleasure to enlighten you.

Back in the early 20th century, people didn't know a lot about radiation . Rather, they did, but they didn't have a habit of sharing information, like we do now. Which is why it was thought that radium, a highly radioactive substance, was in fact good for you. Because it sold well. Because any miracle cure always sells well.

So nobody even batted an eyelash when radium dial clock factories sprang up and started hiring young women to paint in their studios. Not wearing any protective suits. Putting the radium-covered brush straight into their mouths. Ingesting the radium. Like they were instructed. Because 'the radium is good for you'. It will put rosy cheeks on you.

Photo courtesy of The Atlantic

It's not that they didn't bat an eyelash, really – they were actually even jealous of the girls, of their shining clothes and shining hair – as they returned from work. All covered in radioactive, glaring radium. Like a fairytale curse – enchanted pixie dust, that will bring you happiness, a fortune, that will make your position coveted and make every other girl jealous of your angelic glow. And yet, coming with a price akin to the fairytale one, where you have to give away your firstborn. Which was also what some of these girls pretty much did.

Unfortunately for them, back in the 1920's, the US government wasn't too keen about interfering with companies. So when they started dying horrible, torturous deaths one by one, dropping like flies, nobody intervened. They were called names. Liars. They were said to have died of sexually transmitted diseases. All the while suffering the worst kind of physical pain, because... the radium was literally in their bones. So much so, that decades, hundreds of years after we're all gone, the remains of these girls in their graves will still glow and emit radiation.

So this story is about how these poor, brave women fought for justice, for at least a little bit of honor in the end of their lives, and for the ones after them. For all of you. Because this is why you can now boast some safety in your jobs. This is why you are not forced to quit when you get sick. It's also why your bosses are not allowed to blatantly lie to you if they make you work with dangerous substances. And especially as women (if you, reader, are one), you have a lot to thank these girls for.

I could say so much about this story. In fact, I could quote the entire book. But that would kind of defeat the purpose of you reading it, wouldn't it? Which is what I must urge you to do, because you must know. You must know how much pain it took for our lives to be paved the way they are, to build up to this point. This is the least we can do for these girls – hear their story. Say a prayer for them. Remember them.

The women we meet in this book are all so exceptional, bright, warm, cheerful. The way some of them fight this incredibly crippling condition they're faced with was so inspiring. And heartbreaking, at the same time. This book doesn't read like like non-fiction, for starters! You will be drawn into the story instantly, you will even cry. Some of you – more than once. You will curse the people who did this to them, even though they knew what they were doing. You will be angry, maybe even furious. I don't see how anyone could remain a stone statue in the presence of something like this. I dare you.

But your heart will also swell with love. For the wonderful people who helped them. For the husbands and lovers of those young women who never threw them away, even when they were helpless shadows of their former selves, unable to move, to speak, to eat. You will bless the few lawyers and judges who weren't in it for the money, who fought for justice and for their own belief in the world. And most of all, your heart will swell with love for those young women who had no other option but to die, to die a graceful death, to die a proud death – because that's all that was left to them.

Precious materials are more precious than human life. Such is the tendency today as well. Maybe not in the Western world anymore. But in some places of the world it still is. In the beginning of this post, I said anything can be sold. This book will make you wonder what is being sold to you right now.

I am also very happy to announce to you all that the author Kate Moore has agreed to give an interview on my blog! I will be publishing it in the coming two weeks, most likely, and you are very welcome to hear the story of how this book came to be. I have a lot of respect for Kate because of how warmly she treated the memory of the girls when she was writing this book.

I am also deeply thankful to Kate Moore and Sourcebooks for giving me an advance copy of in exchange for my honest review. This was a bigger gift than you could imagine. This book was worth all my love and all my tears.

If you feel for these girls and their story, please share my post. We must make stories like this heard. I want this story to be known by as many people as possible, so we can all honor their memory. An interview with the author can now be found here as well. Thank you for reading!

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Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,155 followers
January 12, 2018
Whew! What a gut-wrenching read...and fight...for truth and justice!

We start with a short eerie prologue from 1901, and soon see the chilling....never to be forgotten phrase: Lip...Dip...Paint - - - Such frightening words!

THE RADIUM GIRLS is a truly shocking non-fiction read about women in the 1920's who were hired to paint watch dials with a luminous and deadly substance. Young, naive and conscientious, the shining girls kept lip-dipping and painting to achieve that precise point even when symptoms of tooth and jawbone loss became the norm....even when mouth sores would not heal....they needed to support their families....they trusted their employer.

The gleaming substance was safe after-all, "the local paper had declared: Radium may be eaten, it seems that in years to come we shall be able to buy radium tablets---and add years to our lives!" But that was not so....as one wealthy man discovered...."The radium water worked fine until his jaw came off."

One agonizing death after another is described here...right along with a multitude of corporate lies, cover-ups and acts of medical fraud, but...finally...after long fought court battles, painful deaths and body exhumations, safety standards resulted that saved future generations of workers....even the deceased contributed to science.

Historically informative and unsettling read. Recommend checking out some of the old "glowing" advertisements, and the story behind THE RADIUM GIRLS bronze statue erected in Ottawa, Illinois. Interesting stuff!

Many thanks to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS for the free ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,986 followers
December 31, 2018
Last audiobook of 2018! This is one where the content pushes it to a 5. If it was not for the content, I probably would have gone with 4 stars.

This is not any easy book to read/listen to. The real life horrors described are terrifying and the total apathy on the part of the companies involved is infuriating. For some, the repetition might get exhausting, but I think the repetition is important. By talking about how the exact same issues went on over and over and over again and how the companies responsible tried every trick in the book to avoid blame is what this book is all about!

I am lucky in that all the women I have known have been satisfied that that have received fair treatment from their employers. When I read stories like this where women are treated basically as a disposable and unimportant commodity, it really hits home how unequal treatment of the sexes has been over time. At one point in the book they mention a man finally having some of the same issues as the women and only then do people start to get concerned. It's just shocking, unacceptable, and makes me want to apologize for the male gender as a whole!

This is definitely one of the most important stories of the past 100 years. It helped shape how workers are treated in an industrial setting. It was a part of changing views of how women are seen in the workplace/society. And, it is a cautionary tale of how over time we have not understood the dangers of new science, technology, chemicals, etc. If there is not at least one part of this story affecting your life today, I would be surprised.

These women gave their lives for all of this. We owe it to them to learn their story.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
April 26, 2017
I saw a lot of positive reviews for this one so I really wanted to read it and I'm glad I did. During the beginning of the twentieth century radioactive elements were newly discovered and many were excited about the possible curative uses for them. One of the elements radium was used to paint watch dials as well as in many beauty and health products marketed to the masses. When World War I broke out the production of radium painted clocks rose and many more women became employed painting them. The common practice was to use one's mouth to smooth out the ends of the paint brush leading to many women ingesting lethal amounts of radium. Eventually when the effects started to show the women had trouble finding out what caused their sickness and then trying to get the companies to acknowledge and help them pay the medical bills pilling up. The author succeeded in humanizing and bringing to life the radium girls and I honestly was boiling over with rage through out when the companies wouldn't help the girls out even though they were doing fine financially. I can't believe they went to all those lengths instead of just doing the right thing to begin with, especially because it seems like it honestly would have been cheaper to just help the girls with their medical bills.

Profile Image for zuza_zaksiazkowane.
378 reviews33.9k followers
November 8, 2020
Nie ukrywam, musiałam się zmusić, żeby ją skończyć. Niesamowicie ciężka, wstrząsająca i momentami ciężko uwierzyć, że historia ta wydarzyła się naprawdę. Kilka razy miałam łzy w oczach, a to już mówi samo za siebie. Zdecydowanie ważny i dobry reportaż, ale z pewnością nie dla każdego.
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,854 reviews1,643 followers
November 14, 2017
I found this book very different from anything I've ever read previously. It evoked such emotion with the details it revealed throughout and was both highly readable and thrilling. These women deserve to be recognised for the huge sacrifices they made, all they asked was the same as most of us do now - a steady job with money coming in, yet, what they got turned into something else entirely. Kate Moore did exactly what she set out to do by writing a truly honest and heartbreaking tale of these incredibly brave and shining women whose lives were taken for granted by the greedy radium companies. They knew of the harm radium could do but in order to profit from the radium binge, let the women continue with their practices.

This is an important book with regards to workplace reform but also will be of interest to those in medical and science fields or with interest in them. I am in no doubt that this sort of thing could be repeated in this day and age, due to the amount of people who's morals retire when money is involved.

Highly recommended to fans of non-fiction and well researched true stories.
August 7, 2020
It is amazing that the emotional impact of such a simple thing, like reading a book can do to the mind. I finished this book last night before I went to bed, and I was crying. I was crying for the women and their families, I was crying as I learned justice was finally served and mostly, I was crying because I feel so fortunate, that because of these brave, powerful women, that we know more about radium and it's dangers today.

I've had to sleep on this, before writing any words about it, mostly because I struggle to find the words for something so harrowing as this. I have watched cancer and it's utter devastation it has on the body and what it can leave in it's path. The aftermath that is left with the families, when they try to pick up the pieces, but, I don't think that is anything in comparison to what these amazing brave women were forced to endure, and eventually mostly succumb to. I think the fact that they existed, and they experienced absolute hell, makes it all the more difficult to digest.

I'd heard about The radium girls at various points in my life over the course of a couple of years. I'd heard snippets about it, but I'd never really read anything about it in intricate detail. Nothing like this book, anyway. Once I started reading this, I really wanted to read it in one sitting. I was so fascinated by it, and I couldn't quite believe what I was reading in some parts, it was that horrific. The author ensured the reader knew the true, raw experiences that these desperately ill women went through. I had to take a pause in a few places throughout the book, and take a breath. It was that intense and tragic.

What I really do appreciate about this book, is the women were fighting for justice at a time, when women were seen as the second sex. It honestly does make me incredibly proud to be a woman. The way in which these women formed a group together, fought together even in their very darkest and frightening hour, just tells you something about the female sex. We definitely need some more role models like this in today's society.

I honestly feel like I could talk about this book for hours on end, and I think it is a very important book of our history, and if you can overcome the horrors described in this book, then I think it could help make you reflect on your own lives and what matters most.
I will not ever, forget this story, and I feel honoured to have read it.
July 11, 2019
Lip… Dip… Paint.

In the 1920s, dozens of healthy, young, working-class women (some as young as 14) were employed in a newly-born business: painting with radium, the marvelous material the Curies had isolated 20 years prior. At the time, this fluorescent wonder was believed so beneficial for the body, that medications, aesthetic treatments and even toiletry items had started to employ it. In 1923, given you had enough money to afford it, you could spend a day at the spa, bathing in radium-infused water.

On sale were radium jockstraps and lingerie, radium butter, radium milk, radium toothpaste (guaranteeing a brighter smile with every brushing) and even a range of Radior cosmetics, which offered radium-laced face creams, soap, rouge, and compact powders.

Everyone who came in contact with this miracle of science was amazed by its property to make everything it touched glow, even the skin, teeth and clothes of the girls who worked with it. Painting with radium was a highly desired job, as it offered higher wages than average and it was, in a word, glamorous.

The girls shone “like the watches did in the darkroom,” as though they themselves were timepieces, counting down the seconds as they passed. They glowed like ghosts as they walked home through the streets of Orange.

Who would consider herself luckier than a girl who could afford fur coats and high heels, and went to parties every weekend glowing like a star with a material that, not only made her pockets full and her teeth luminous, but also benefit her health? And so the girls, believing that what they were doing was not only safe, but even beneficial (free radium treatment!), would handle the material every day for several hours, without any protection, and they would even ingest it, as they were advised to use their lips to shape the brush during the operations.

As early as 1914, specialists knew that radium could deposit in the bones of radium users and that it caused changes in their blood. These blood changes, however, were interpreted as a good thing—the radium appeared to stimulate the bone marrow to produce extra red blood cells. Deposited inside the body, radium was the gift that kept on giving.

Then, all of a sudden, people started dying.

The story of the radium girls, who during their short lives endured atrocious pains, horrible disfigurements, public criticism and, overall, just plain injustice, is one tragic chapter of our history. When I first heard it, some months ago thanks to a YouTube video, I was shocked by the fact that so many people today (including me) have no idea that it had happened. How is it possible that so few people talk about this?

This book is not for the faint of heart (or stomach), as it is a crude, dramatic report of events that were not only terrible per se, but also because of the reaction of the people involved (factory owners, supervisors, scientists and doctors), who appeared to knew all too well the effects of radium, but chose to keep quiet about it.

If you looked a little closer at all those positive publications, there was a common denominator: the researchers, on the whole, worked for radium firms. As radium was such a rare and mysterious element, its commercial exploiters in fact controlled, to an almost monopolizing extent, its image and most of the knowledge about it. Many firms had their own radium-themed journals, which were distributed free to doctors, all full of optimistic research. The firms that profited from radium medicine were the primary producers and publishers of the positive literature.

This book gave a lot of information, but left me with three questions. Number one: would things have been different if the victims were other than young, working class women? Number two: how much of the damage dealt to the population was actually deliberate, a way to test the effects of this "scientific wonder" on unknowing subjects for future uses, e. g. military? And, finally, who can reassure us that something similar is not happening today, and we are not ingesting/breathing some potentially lethal substance that is absolutely legal but that would turn out to be carcinogenic within a couple of years?

In the early 2000s they built a statue, dedicated to the memory of the radium girls. I sure won't ever forget about them now that I know what really happened! May they all rest in peace.

June 10, 2021
**** This is an older book but one that I keep remembering, it's definitely worth the read

This is the first non fiction book I’ve read in a long time and it is a good one. I had never read anything about the tragedy that consumed a large number of young women working with radium, painting dials on clocks and other instrument panels.

In the beginning radium was actually being hailed as a “health wonder” but it was soon discovered by many of the scientists working with radium that it could indeed be very dangerous. The young women took these jobs, offered by large factories, because they paid well and they were assured that there was nothing harmful in the paint that they were using. The most horrible part of the story was the telling that most of the girls actually put the brushes in their mouths to get a pointed tip to make their painting more precise!

The manufacturer’s deliberately withheld the information about the danger of this method of painting even when there were girls already having terrible side effects from the radium. Their bodies started to fall apart, many of them with jaw bone disintegration, others with symptoms in other bones in their bodies. This went on for a decade with information withheld, no assistance with medical bills, etc. and women dying from the complications. In the end some of them finally received justice but of course it was too late for many of the women.

This book is obviously meticulously researched and much time taken to delve into the stories of many individual girls. The problem I had with the reading was that there were simply so many women and the book wasn’t really told in a very linear fashion so that I began to forget which woman had what symptoms, what their doctors had done, etc. I found this confusing and I think I would have preferred that the author narrow the number of victims down to a smaller number in order to keep the information and stories flowing in a more readable format.

I appreciate the information that I learned from this book and would recommend it to fans of non fiction. It is well worth the read.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and Netgalley, thank you.
Profile Image for Sharon Orlopp.
Author 1 book528 followers
January 19, 2023
Wow! 5+++ stars! Highly recommend!

This is a harrowing true story about young women, many of them immigrants, who worked in plants in Newark/Orange, NJ and Ottawa, Canada painting watch and clock dials with radium so that the numbers would be luminous. The story takes place in the 1920s.

At the time, radium was said to be very safe. The young women were instructed to insert the paint brushes into their mouths so that the paint brush line would be very thin. "Lip, dip, and paint" was the process they were taught as they dipped their paint brushes into radium paint.

The health issues and excruciating deaths that occurred with many of the women are told in horrific detail. Unfortunately, the majority of dentists, doctors, and supervisors that they went to for advice and evaluation dismissed them.

The existing workers compensation laws during that time were narrowly constrained; radium poisoning claims did not meet the criteria and the statue of limitations was too short.

Yet many of these women continued to fight for their lives and for social and economic justice. Fortunately, there were some doctors, dentists, and attorneys who championed their cause.

This is a riveting story of young women with workplace injuries championing to have their employer provide medical and financial assistance and to prevent other employees from radium poisoning.

Highly recommend!

Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
May 16, 2017
All the stars for this well researched nonfiction that is just infused with emotion. Kate Moore writes in such a manner that I quickly became immersed in the stories of the American women in the 1920's and 1930's that were exposed to radium poisoning. What these women and their families went through to have the truth heard in the courts and in the country! I felt so furious at the company that refused for so long to admit their wrongdoing. Imagine implying that all these women had died of "Cupid's disease" aka syphilis. A definite must read on the 2017 TBR list.

Thanks to NetGalley for an uncorrected digital galley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.5k followers
October 1, 2018
Well this was a rough read!

At around 1h into the audiobook all I could think was... this woman just got a piece of her jaw literally fall, this can get any worse... and it did.

I don't recommend the audiobook. The narrator did a great job but they didn't edit her swallowing half the time and it got annoying sadly!

*As I often do with non fiction... I don't feel comfortable giving a rating to this book.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,077 reviews59k followers
May 12, 2017
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is a 2017 Sourcebooks publication.

“Luminous Processes, declared the local paper, seems to put profits before people.”
‘How quickly we forget.’

Only the most hard -hearted among us could read this book without shedding tears. So be warned this book is not for the faint of heart and while the bravery of these young ladies is certainly inspirational, the anger and frustration I felt about their untimely and excruciating deaths left me feeling emotionally and physically exhausted.

The author has obviously done meticulous research about the women who worked for the Radiant Dial Corporation and the United States Radium Corporation beginning in 1917.

The practice of ‘dip, lip, paint’, which was encouraged by the factory, to prevent waste, and to give the brush a sharper point, but exposed the women, who painted luminous dials on watches, with deadly radium. The factories were so popular, due to the wages, which were well above average, and because of the ‘glow’ the women had due to the radium exposure, which they were assured was perfectly safe. Some of the women even painted the substance onto their faces to see themselves glow in the dark.

Five women in particular stood out, as they battled what was termed ‘occupational diseases’, taking their case to court, but there were many more. The court cases were long, hard fought, and had many disappointments before all was said and done. It was a hard battle which lasted for many years, but the effects lingered on for these ladies’ offspring, for years to come.

But, the author really excelled at bringing these women to life, giving them a voice, so to speak. All these women were so very young, so full of life and hope. To hear, in horrific detail, their pain and suffering made for some very difficult reading. Catherine Wolfe Donohoe is one that stood out for me, with her loyal husband, Tom.

The suffering these women endured, was gruesome and unimaginable. Again, I warn you, this material is very graphic, and the author drives this point home with such vividness, I swear my joints and teeth ached.

This is a battle that waged for many years, with the factories refusing to accept that the radium was dangerous, then trying to hide that it was dangerous, by any means.

This is a painful story, one that highlights greed and deceit, but also proves what can happen if you stand up for yourself, speak out, and refuse to give up. The women featured here saved countless lives, while giving their own.

This is a powerful, gut wrenching story, and it’s one that has played out in various forms, since the years highlighted here, with various companies hiding dangers or releasing flawed products onto an unsuspecting public.

These women should never be forgotten and their bravery should set a shining example for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. You never know, you may, like the women featured in this book, bring about new standards of health and safety, expose dangers, and force accountability on those only concerned about their own bottom line.

Bravo to Madeline Piller, whose championed these ladies by raising funds for a bronze statue honoring these brave women. The statue was unveiled in 2011, in Ottawa, Illinois.

5 stars
Profile Image for Tina Haigler.
297 reviews103 followers
May 23, 2019

Ok. So I've put off writing this review for a while, simply because every time I go to write it, I get angry, and just end up ranting about the horror and injustice of it all. So I'm going to write this damn thing and try not to simply rage the whole time. Therefore, I make absolutely no promises about the quality of this review, but here goes.

This was not an easy read. It made me stark raving mad. I'm talking want to throw things at people, punch holes in walls, and scream into the wind pissed. What these women suffered through is beyond belief, and the apathy of the people in power is enough to make anyone's blood boil, let alone the lack of justice for these poor women and their families. The fact that people knew about it, could've easily prevented it, and chose to ignore it, is downright sick. It still infuriates me every time I think about it. It is also terribly gruesome to read about the medical problems and eventual death that was inevitably caused by the radium poisoning.

The book itself was decently written, engaging, and thorough. The science behind the radium, and how it affects the body was quite interesting to me. I also enjoyed reading about the girls lives before their decline. However, I didn't enjoy the court stuff as much. Honestly a lot of it seemed unnecessarily repetitive. My favorite parts were the women with the indomitable spirits, the heroic supporters who simply couldn't let this atrocity stand, and the fact that their courage changed the world. I for one, will never forget. Thank you.

"They made every second count."
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
February 11, 2018
This book made me cry. It made me cry for the girls who were so brave, so sick, and so dedicated to one another so that the truth would be known. It made me cry for the greed that men, doctors and lawyers showed for these girls to let them suffer so while knowing the dangers of the substance they were working with. It made me cry to think of parents deprived of their daughters, children deprived of their mothers, and husbands deprived of their wives. It made me cry to think of the evil and greed the pursuit of money breeds in our culture. It made me cry to think that there were men who willingly and knowingly had no respect for human life.

Perhaps there is no fitting way to give justice to these girls and their families. However, Ms Moore, in telling their stories, did an excellent job of portraying for us the real pain, the real courage, and the real people, young girls really, who were a part of this company whose job it was to paint radium infused paint unto clocks and watches. Most apparent through the telling is the complete and utter disregard for these women and the horrible nature of the diseases caused by radium and what it did to their bodies. There was no sense of dignity put forth by the company who employed them. The Radium Dial Company was in a word despicable and one hopes that those, the men who oversaw the girls, the doctors who lied about their condition, and the lawyers who defended the horrendous actions of a company they well knew was lying, and who disavowed the girls' deteriorating conditions by the most despicable of ways are currently burning in hell.

This book illuminates the things that were done to American workers in the twenties, particularly the women. It points out the enormous gratitude that must come from we who have come after these girls and now work in conditions that have been made eminently better through their sacrifice, courage, and determination.

Thank you to Ms Moore for writing a book about the girls and their struggles. It is well worth the time one has to read this remarkable book written about remarkable women who did give their lives in such awful and painful ways. It is a tribute to them and a story that should be told and never be forgotten.
Profile Image for Pamela Small.
458 reviews41 followers
May 5, 2022
2.5 rounded up due to the author’s excellent research.
The research is extensive and impeccable in this historical, non fictional account of the use (misuse and abuse) of radium at the turn of the century. I was unaware of the radium girls and the factories that employed them. Therefore, I feel VERY enlightened, if not VERY enraged, by the corporate greed, the lack of safety standards, and the poor communication between scientists, management, and doctors. Consumer advocacy has improved greatly in the last 100 years, thank God.

The lower rating is due to the execution. The author is said to have written an historical narrative, yet it seemed to be more of a longitudinal parade of facts, which became repetitive and redundant. Transitioning between Ottawa and New Jersey was choppy and confusing. Transitioning between the various girls was also tedious and confusing. There was just so much back and forth and so much redundancy. It did not read as a narrative at all. The book would have been more engaging, and the facts more interesting, if fewer girls were portrayed, and only one setting was used. Radium Girls: A Play in Two Acts is much more appealing as it scales down on all the excruciating detail found in this book and allows the reader to embrace the dynamic characterization of one of the workers.

In fairness, I think I prefer historical fiction ( ex:The All Girls Filling Station, Hidden Figures, Nightwitches, The Nightengale) which still inform and enlighten the reader, but with a narrative that is more engaging than a text-book-like series of facts.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Sourcebooks for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
June 6, 2017
Kate Moore’s well-researched true story tells us of the lives of the “shining girls” condersided the luckiest girls alive to have found the most coveted jobs using the “wonder” substance radium to paint dials. We learn of their feelings of joy, excitement, and independence at having such glamorous jobs, to them becoming ill and their bodies starting to deteriorate and then some to their deaths. To others realizing their jobs are causing their illness, to their fight against the companies and their legal battles and then for some realizing they are going to die.

Moore doesn’t shy away from the vivid details of the agonizing deaths and suffering the women went through and it’s not for the faint hearted. I think that might be me as I found the torment they went through relentless and their agonizing suffering and the deaths after deaths started to become too overwhelming for me. Some of what I was reading just became a blur to me and at times I just wanted to get through the book.

As much as the girls suffering broke my heart, the greed, dishonesty and the refusal to protect the young women from the danger was shocking and angered me.

I think Radium Girls was one of the most unsettling books I have read and even though I did not enjoy it, I am glad I read it. The courage and tenacity of the women is an important story that needed to be told and Kate Moore is remarkable to have told it and honoring the women and their deaths by doing so.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher Sourcebooks for a copy to read and review.
All of Norma’s & my reviews can be found on our Sister Blog:


Profile Image for Liz.
2,143 reviews2,759 followers
July 5, 2017
Here's another nonfiction book that reads as quickly and easily as a mystery. After a quick prologue about the Curies, the book begins in earnest in 1917 at the watch dial painting factory. What first struck me was that these girls truly were girls, mostly in their teens. Schooling beyond the elementary grades wasn't something the working classes could afford. The book gives a great account not only of the limits of science, but also the limits and willingness of government agencies to pursue employee safety. It provides a strong reminder of where we might be returning to, given the current administration.

This is a sad, heart wrenching tale. These women were repeatedly told lies and dealt with coverups. And it wasn't just their problems. Like a stone thrown in the pond, the rings of destruction made their way through entire families, putting many in the poor house as they struggled with overwhelming medical bills.

But there is a heartwarming aspect to the book as well. While there are plenty of villains, there were also plenty of heroines and heroes, who fought for justice for the Radium Girls.

A well told story and one that I strongly recommend.
Profile Image for Feisty Harriet.
1,211 reviews38 followers
February 6, 2018
This is a 5-star story with a 2-star delivery (and minus another star for the HORRIBLE audiobook). I appreciate Moore trying to go all Erin Brockovich on the case of dozens of women poisoned by using radium-based paint, and their legal fight for compensation and recognition from their former employers. HOWEVER, the text was clunky and so much was unnecessarily melodramatic, the story speaks for itself, I don't need "literary" trope to drive the point home.

I feel that Moore missed a huge opportunity in not discussing the fact that women's pain is not taken as seriously as that of men, and poor women even less so, and that the medical establishment had a habit of refusing to share medical information with patients, especially women, and the damn patriarchy did as much damage to these women and their story as radium itself. I mean, the book was published in 2017, not 1997, this should have been BASIC ELEMENTS to the struggle the women faced in trying to get treatment, recognition, and justice. The story of Erin Brockovich hit a home run because it was delivered in a no-nonsense, take-no-shit manner, Brockovich was direct and cut to the chase. I appreciate Moore is trying to tell the human story of the women affected by radium poisoning, but I felt that she danced around too much and spent too much time offering flowery embellishments when the actual facts stand well enough on their own.

(Also? I cannot tell you how much it irked that the women in this book, despite being in their 20s, 30s and even 40s, were referred to as "girls" at all times by almost everyone, author included. Stop it. They are full grown women.)
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,912 reviews248 followers
March 20, 2018
Radium, discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, was thought to be 'the wonder element,' a magnificent cure-all that could destroy cancerous tumors and could perhaps be the elixir of youth.

When added to paint this 'liquid sunshine' could glow in the dark. In 1916, Radium Luminous Materials Corporation opened its doors in Newark, New Jersey and operated a watch dial studio that employed local girls, the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants, as painters.

One hundred years ago, before OSHA and the EPA, industry had few restrictions or oversight of their workplaces in their pursuit of profits so even though the inventor of the paint knew of its destructive capabilities, the girls were not given any warnings or protective gear to wear. In fact, they were instructed to put the slim camel-hair brushes in their mouths to get a finer point for their work. Lip...Dip...Paint. Over and over, thousands of times a day.

With WWI in full swing, the demand for radium dials and watches was booming; the company paid an attractive wage and employed as many as 375 girls at the peak of business. The job wasn't for everyone: some couldn't work at the pace demanded, some didn't like the taste of the paint, and some developed mouth sores quickly. But those who were talented and quick enough stayed on, liking the workplace and especially the decent salary they were paid.

The first signs of illness and changes in blood resembled phosphorus poisoning, a well-known industrial poisoning in Newark, and the girls confronted their employers. They were assured that there was no need to worry--the radium amounts in the paint were so minuscule that it could not possibly cause them harm.

In 1921, a corporate takeover ousted the original founder of the company and the business, renamed United States Radium Corporation, was poised to flourish in the postwar world.

As the girls sickened, doctors and dentists were flummoxed by the illnesses the girls came to see them with: loose teeth, gum sockets that would not heal after extractions, pronounced limps, aches and pains. But since the girls saw different experts, all these differing complaints were not connected to one workplace.

When radium poisoning was first suggested, it was highly contested by the industry and legal suits fell by the wayside as prevailing laws did not support the workers' claims.

Meanwhile, 800 miles away in Ottawa, Illinois, another business started up in September of 1922: Radium Dial Company with its head office in Chicago. And the use of the 'lip, dip, paint' technique was taught to a whole new group of eager young women employees. And the deadly process began again.

Other books have been written about this whole sorry and horrifying business but in this book, Kate Moore says she wanted to bring the girls' personal stories to light and give them a voice--all their hopes, dreams, pain, suffering and eventual deaths. But most importantly, how these women stood up for their rights with strength, dignity and courage. Because of their legal cases, the US government eventually formed OSHA and the EPA. Kudos to these brave women!

Having lived in the general vicinity of Ottawa, IL since 1981, we were aware of this sad, shameful history through displays in local history museums but didn't realize that the area where these jobs were carried on is still in the process of being cleaned up as of 2015, according to Moore. Radium has a half-life of 1500 years! And a spinoff of the original Radium Dial company carried on business until 1978 under the name of Luminous Processes, and when workers there noticed a high incidence of breast cancer, the company denied its culpability. And the beat goes on...

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this important and moving work of nonfiction. Thank you for bringing these women's stories to life in these pages.

Notes: It was a pleasure to meet author Kate Moore at a program she gave for Seneca Public Library, Seneca, IL on March 19, 2018. She genuinely cares for these women and their stories. I also sat next to the great niece of Catherine Donohue, the brave woman who won her law suit against Radium Dial even as she lay dying. It was a pleasure to meet her as well and learn more about her family.
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831 reviews450 followers
December 14, 2022
What an amazing group of women- who had courage to fight against all the unbelievers. ❤️ How terrible and torturous and painful their lives were with that exposure. 😢 It’s sad that historically people have to die before anyone in power actually listens. 💔😔
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