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May/Jun 18 The Hate/Radium Girls > Radium Girls Historical Context

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message 1: by Pam (last edited Jul 01, 2018 09:18AM) (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
One of my complaints against Moore's telling of the Radium Girls was the lack of context. While the horror of their experiences came through by the end of part two/part three, there really wasn't a clear reason (to me) how monumental their fight was. This wasn't simple a tale of good vs evil of nobel good hearted lawyers who fought against big company. I never quite understood the scope of WHY this was such a big ordeal.(view spoiler)

This thread then is my effort to provide some solutions to that complaint: to go into a few more details behind the time period, the workforce, and the issues women still fight against today.

message 2: by Pam (last edited Jul 02, 2018 01:19PM) (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
- The Civil War was over, the Wild West wasn't so wild, California was a State, trains connected the East to the West, and telegraph's could get communication from one side of the country to the other.

(In the greater world, the Victorian era ended, with King Edward starting the Edwardian time period. This marks something of the end of Exploration, too. Where white man had no more hidden areas to explore such as the Congo or India, and the western world was turning inward. Vienna was THE place to be with Freud, Klimt, Wagner and Mahler entering the scene)

- Between 1880 and 1920, a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization, America received more than 20 million immigrants. Ellis Island, an immigration port, opened up in 1892. Certain folk: Chinese/Irish, were looked down upon and refused port. Many jobs specifically segregated against having these nationality working, forcing these people to take on some of the lowest of the low positions: digging canals, building the railroad, farming.

-Because most immigrants were poor when they arrived, they often lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where rents for the crowded apartment buildings, called tenements, were low. Some examples: buildings were built in 1860's ( 40 yrs old by 1901) could house 20 families, four on each floor. Each apartment had only three rooms: a living or "front" room, a kitchen, and a tiny bedroom. Often seven or more people lived in each apartment. Not only was the tenement crowded, but also, until 1905, there were no bathrooms inside the building. Residents also did not have electric power until after 1918. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/es/ny/...

- On the heels of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclimation, occured the Great Black Exodus or Black Migration. Where the recently freed slaves moved to the North for jobs and a chance at a better life. Which "Until 1910, more than 90 percent of the African-American population lived in the American South." (For those who were wondering where were the POC Radium girls- most didn't live in Jersey or Illinois, nor would they have been given such a lucrative job as a dial painter as Moore explained in her video interview.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_M...

- Thanks in part to industrailzation, which could employ more people than an farm, as well as the influx of immigrants, (demand + supply) child labor was rampant. 10% of all American girls between the ages of 10 and 15 and 20% of boys had jobs. Boys working in mines and quarries received 60 cents for a 10-hour workday.

- Only 7 states required school attendance to 16.
The average life span for men was 46 years old. Women were expected to live to the age of 48. Major causes of death were tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria, diphtheria, and influenza.


-Electricity was used primarily in industry in 1901, but was rapidly spreading. Most houses would have use lanterns or tallow candels for light. Again, homes like tenements for the poor, working families, wouldn't have been installed until 1918. At which the buildings themselves would have been at least 50+ yrs old and lived through constant large families and the ware and tear that comes with them.

- The Orville brothers solve the mystery of flight: in 1903 the Wright brothers achieved the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight; they surpassed their own milestone two years later when they built and flew the first fully practical airplane. This would later change warfare forever

- While there were cars for the immensely rich and carefree, they didn't quite catch on until Ford's Model T and the invention of the assembly line in 1913

message 3: by Pam (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod

Women's Rights were lacking. And the First Wave of Feminism was created with women (upper to middle class white women) seeking rights to own property, have a personal claim on their earnings, share equal guardianship of their children, and have the right to vote. Many organizations were growing to support this movement. Women across the nation finally gained the right to vote in 1920.

message 4: by Pam (last edited Jul 14, 2018 12:01PM) (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
World War I, also known as the First World War, the Great War, or the War to End All Wars, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America’s closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter’s attempted quarantine of the British Isles. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain.

On May 7, the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner was torpedoed without warning just off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,959 passengers, 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans.

The German government maintained that the Lusitania was carrying munitions, but the U.S. demanded reparations and an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships. In August, Germany pledged to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels, but in November sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. With these attacks, public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.

In 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Triple Alliance announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters.

Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. Four days later, his request was granted.

On June 26, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat. After four years of bloody stalemate along the western front, the entrance of America’s well-supplied forces into the conflict marked a major turning point in the war and helped the Allies to victory.

When the war finally ended, on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives.

message 5: by Pam (last edited Jul 02, 2018 01:20PM) (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
If you got this far: thank you!

What does all this mean for our heroines of Radium Girls?

1) With WW1 more and more dials with glow in the dark Radium painted numerals were being bought. (Demand)

2) With an influx of immigrants, especially those trying to escape WW1, there were hundreds of thousands of people all vying for jobs. (SUPPLY)

3) Women were employed, not because of equality, but because you could pay them less than you would a man. Plus, this was a particular job that was delicate; requiring smaller hands than a man's, but with more focus than a child. And hence why women were employed here.

4) Women were so grateful fora job let alone one so high paying, that many of them didn't think badly about their positions.

message 6: by Pam (last edited Jul 02, 2018 01:21PM) (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
Want more?

This era 1900-1920 was considered America's Progressive Era, in part because this new emergence of technology/ industrialization/ and exploitation.

We moved rapidly from a country that subsisted primarily as an agrarian society into a more industrialized nation. The Civil War changed how we looked at industry. The influx of immigrants gave us the resources to move quickly. Technology (electricity, the telephone, etc ) made communication with our furthest borders and the rest of the world that much more easier and faster. News moved quickly. Exponentially faster.

And as things progressed, we found we didn't have rules for life.

- cars, for example, we were coming to terms with road signs and traffic laws that would protect horse drawn carriages or horse back or walkers.

And so to with industry. In this torrential influx of millions of people all clamoring for a job (pre -war), business got away with murder. Because even if a person lost a limb in a machine, they would be easily replaced (sound familiar?)

With communication expanding, education improving a new push for social justice and awareness bread a heightened empowerment of journalism. Specifically Muckraking journalism.

"The term muckraker was used in the Progressive Era to characterize reform-minded American journalists who attacked established institutions and leaders as corrupt."

Some of the key documents that came to define the work of the muckrakers were:

Ray Stannard Baker published "The Right to Work" in McClure's Magazine in 1903, about coal mine conditions, a coal strike, and the situation of non-striking workers (or scabs). Many of the non-striking workers had no special training or knowledge in mining, since they were simply farmers looking for work. His investigative work portrayed the dangerous conditions in which these people worked in the mines, and the dangers they faced from union members who did not want them to work.

Lincoln Steffens published "Tweed Days in St. Louis", in which he profiled corrupt leaders in St. Louis, in October 1902, in McClure's Magazine.[25] The prominence of the article helped lawyer Joseph Folk to lead an investigation of the corrupt political ring in St. Louis.

Ida Tarbell published The Rise of the Standard Oil Company in 1902, providing insight into the manipulation of trusts. One trust they manipulated was with Christopher Dunn Co. She followed that work with The History of The Standard Oil Company: the Oil War of 1872, which appeared in McClure's Magazine in 1908. She condemned Rockefeller's immoral and ruthless business tactics and emphasized “our national life is on every side distinctly poorer, uglier, meaner, for the kind of influence he exercises.” Her book generated enough public anger that it led to the splitting up of Standard Oil under the Sherman Anti Trust Act.[26]

Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, which revealed conditions in the meat packing industry in the United States and was a major factor in the establishment of the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act.[27] Sinclair wrote the book with the intent of addressing unsafe working conditions in that industry, not food safety.[27] Sinclair was not a professional journalist but his story was first serialized before being published in book form. Sinclair considered himself to be a muckraker.


message 7: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne (suzanneskyvara) | 1 comments I never knew that this is when the term "muckraker" came into use, and that so many journalists were fighting to protect people and reveal how they were being exploited.

Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt was the one to come up with the name. "He borrowed the term from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, in which a rake was used to dig up filth and muck. The term caught on, and many journalists were proud to be considered muckrakers." https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-...

I love how reading books like The Radium Girls inspires me to dig into history and more research. Thanks Pam for providing all of this historical context!

message 8: by Pam (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
My pleasure. Thanks for your link, too!

message 9: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea | 7 comments Pam, thank you so much for all of this historical background! It was a wonderful read.

Just as a side comment, Kate Moore is from London, so that might be part of the reason there was not an in-depth analysis of historical and cultural background of America at the time. Furthermore, she does mention the First World War and the industrialization because of it, even if she doesn’t specifically discuss the industrial revolution. I believe this is either because the author meant us to use our prior knowledge of the historical background and time period or she didn’t want to take away from the focus of the radium girls. There were a significant amount of lawsuits and changes fighting back against the industrial revolution at this time (child labor laws, safe working conditions, etc.) and I believe if the author provided information on all these complexities, it would have taken away from the stories of these brave women as history has done so many times before.

Why do you think she didn’t provide enough context or illustrate how monumental the radium girls fight was?

I thought it was pretty clear that these girls through the medical research and lawsuits surrounding them were very specific demonstrations how instrumental this story was. Furthermore, the epilogue clarifies how significant the radium girls medical discoveries and legal advances were to the American work force as a whole. But I’m curious as to what causes our different perceptions.

message 10: by Pam (last edited Jul 08, 2018 10:16AM) (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
Chelsea wrote: "Pam, thank you so much for all of this historical background! It was a wonderful read.

Just as a side comment, Kate Moore is from London, so that might be part of the reason there was not an in-de..."

Thanks Chelsea. This is purely my personal opinion. As such, I am reminded that not everyone is going to please everyone. Moore's book, just didn't do it for me.

Moore isn't a journalist. Her recollection to me read a lot like a bunch of notes set in chronological order as opposed to something that explained the reason of it's importance. Good history writers can offer you context with facts and make it read seamless (Mark Twain. Good journalists can also help you become mini experts in boring or confusing topics because they explain the story within the facts. Rust: The Longest War The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.

To me, Moore didn't know if she was writing a historical fiction or a nonfiction book.
- Moore opens the book with a narrative treatment of a girl's first day going to the plant.
- Her interview with OSS daid that she was trying to write the book from the girls perspective. And yet... Outside of who they were at the plant, we didn't here much about the girls. Shoot, Moore said in the same interview that there weren't just three Maggia daughters working the plant, but four. But one of them didn't push for the trial. If the girls stories were so important...why didn't we know about their life as sisters before the plant? Or even what it was like to have a sister who didn't push? Moore said she cut it because she had to save space... But it took less then a sentence for me to add and another one to have it lead into a transition into how hard it was for the women to step forward to put the blame on their company.
- Furthermore, she said in the same interview that her husband couldn't even tell the women apart and was confused. If your entire point of writing it was to explain who these women were and your own husband couldn't tell... Maybe Moore needed to rewrite?
-Moore's tongue in check nods or side commentary. 'They kinda had it coming" from chapter 25. These asides were unnecessary and over used IMPO. If she did her work to explain things throughly...then these notes wouldn't have been needed. To me, again, it's a sign that the prose isn't right enough. The old show don't tell writer rule.

But again... Totally my opinion.

As a final thought I do understand that Moore is from London, but this time is also a well documented era. For example: if we can trust British archeologist to tell us about Egyptian culture from thousands of years ago, I expect non-fiction writers to also give context to their work.

message 11: by Paula (new)

Paula S (paula_s) | 29 comments Pam wrote: "One of my complaints against Moore's telling of the Radium Girls was the lack of context. ... Why this was the first case that won against business for employee welfare. .."

It wasn't. As Moore does include in the book, several states already had work injury laws, but they were used for things like crushed limbs or burns that were obviously caused by and in the work place. The girls were poisoned gradually and only started to see symptoms many years later when they had already moved on to a life as house wives or working some place else. That the employer has a responsibility for the long term consequences for the employee's health, even after they have left their employ, was the new idea.

I didn't think that the book lacked context, but that might be because I have read other book about the same era, and already had the knowledge you thought was missing. I found the focus on the girls' suffering effective in making me sympathize with them and made the firm's refusal to take responsibility even more horrifying.

message 12: by Pam (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
Paula wrote: "Pam wrote: "One of my complaints against Moore's telling of the Radium Girls was the lack of context. ... Why this was the first case that won against business for employee welfare. .."

It wasn't...."

Thanks for chiming in Paula. Glad you enjoyed the book.

message 13: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea | 7 comments Very good points Pam! I did not really think in depth about Moore's narrative style, which I believe does not stay consistent through out the work - I thought she was trying to take a somewhat journalistic approach (perhaps not successfully). However, I noted that her style wasn't very journalistic, but assumed she took creative measures to reach a boarder audience. Furthermore, it does concern me that she cut details about the women.

Can you provide a link to the interview? I haven't seen it and am now very curious. I partially wonder if her interview will change my perspective on the overall material of the book. Did you see the interview before after you read the piece/ did it effect your opinion?

Thanks Pam! I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss this further with me.

message 14: by Pam (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
Chelsea wrote: "Very good points Pam! I did not really think in depth about Moore's narrative style, which I believe does not stay consistent through out the work - I thought she was trying to take a somewhat jour..."

Always! I am eager to talk about it. And welcome any of your opinions on the book too. And I agree with what you said about her tone. We got to know Catherine Donohue very well. But we also spent chapters understanding her determination to be heard.

To answer your question: I read the book before I saw the interviews, (Link below) If anything the interview solidified my opinion.

Link to the interview: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

There are 5 videos in total.

I am very appreciative that she took the time to answer our questions. And very happy that she reminded the world of the women's struggles. There is no denouncing that.

message 15: by Pam (new)

Pam | 1091 comments Mod
Also... in case you missed this one too... below is the link to our second book's interview. Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why I'm no longer talking to White People about Race) interviewed Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give)



message 16: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea | 7 comments Thanks Pam! I look forward to watching them!

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