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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
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Hahtoolah | 439 comments The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore (2017)

In the late 1890s, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the element Radium. By 1901, it was known to have harmful effects on the human body. It was also believed to have healthful effects if consumed in small quantities.

The cumulative effect of radium, however, is extremely harmful. During World War I, factories were employing young women (many in their early teens) to paint watch faces with a radium paint. The girls found that the easiest way to apply the paint to the watch hands was to lick their brushes to make a fine point of their paint brush. In some factories, this method was actually encouraged. Later, when the factory owners learned this technique was harmful, this message may or may not have been passed on to the workers.

The jobs at the radium factories were coveted, as the jobs paid well. Young girls encouraged their family members and friends to apply for such jobs. At the end of the working day, the girls would be covered in the radium paint, making them and their clothes glow in the dark.

The book focuses on two dial-making factories ~ one in Orange, New Jersey and another in Ottawa, Illinois. The book also focuses on several of the women who worked in these factories.

Symptoms of radium poisoning are not immediately apparent. Many of the young women affected would not show symptoms until years after leaving the company. Then, when they tried to seek compensation for their illnesses, the companies would deny all liability.

The author describes in painful detail the horrors of radium poisoning. Many of the young women suffered from tumors of the mouth. Their teeth would come loose and on many occasions, pieces of their jaws would simply erupt through the gums. I can’t imagine how this could happen. They visited dentists and doctors, all of whom were initially flummoxed by the strange symptoms.

It wasn’t until Harrison Martland began a series of experimental tests, that a connection was made between the symptoms and radium. It would still take years and long court battles before the law caught up with worker safety.

I found this book to be enlightening (no pun intended) and couldn’t put it down.


message 2: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Oliver | 2098 comments Hahtoolah wrote: "I found this book to be enlightening (no pun intended)"

I feel kind of bad, but this made me laugh.


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