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

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

4.5 11
by Kate Moore

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A New York Times Bestseller!

"the glowing ghosts of the radium girls haunt us still."—NPR Books

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


A New York Times Bestseller!

"the glowing ghosts of the radium girls haunt us still."—NPR Books

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...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British ghostwriter Moore traces the lives of more than a dozen American women who were employed as luminous watch-dial painters as early as 1917. She tells how these women, some barely in their 20s, were enchanted by high pay and the allure of the paint’s luminescent substance: radium. Carefully researched, the work will stun readers with its descriptions of the glittering artisans who, oblivious to health dangers, twirled camel-hair brushes to fine points using their mouths, a technique called lip-pointing. By the end of 1918, one out of six American soldiers owned a luminous watch, but the women had begun losing their teeth and entire pieces of their jaws. Moore describes the gruesome effects of radiation exposure on these women’s bodies, and she spares nothing in relaying the intense emotional suffering of their friends and families during subsequent medical investigations and court battles. In giving voice to so many victims, Moore overburdens the story line, which culminates with a 1938 headline trial during which a former employee of the Radium Dial Company collapsed on the stand and had to testify from bed. Moore details what was a “ground-breaking, law-changing, and life-saving accomplishment” for worker’s rights; it lends an emotionally charged ending to a long, sad book. (May)
From the Publisher
"Radium Girls spares us nothing of their suffering; though at times the foreshadowing reads more like a true-crime story, Moore is intent on making the reader viscerally understand the pain in which these young women were living, and through which they had to fight in order to get their problems recognized...The story of real women at the mercy of businesses who see them only as a potential risk to the bottom line is haunting precisely because of how little has changed; the glowing ghosts of the radium girls haunt us still." - NPR Books

"A perfect blend of the historical, the scientific, and the personal, this richly detailed book sheds a whole new light on this unique element and the role it played in changing workers' rights. The Radium Girls makes it impossible for you to ignore these women's incredible stories, and proves why, now more than ever, we can't afford to ignore science, either." - Bustle

"This timely book celebrates the strength of a group of women, whose determination to fight improved both labor laws and scientific knowledge of radium poisoning. Written in a highly readable, narrative style, Moore's chronicle of these inspirational women's lives is sure to provoke discussion-and outrage-in book groups." - Booklist-STARRED review

"Moore's well-researched narrative is written with clarity and a sympathetic voice that brings these figures and their struggles to life...a must-read for anyone interested in American and women's history, as well as topics of law, health, and industrial safety." - STARRED Library Journal

"Carefully researched, the work will stun readers with its descriptions of the glittering artisans who, oblivious to health dangers, twirled camel-hair brushes to fine points using their mouths, a technique called lip-pointing...Moore details what was a 'ground-breaking, law-changing, and life-saving accomplishment' for worker's rights." - Publishers Weekly

"Like Da a Sobel's The Glass Universe and Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures, Kate Moore's The Radium Girls tells the story of a cohort of women who made history by entering the workforce at the dawn of a new scientific era. But the young women—many of them just teenagers—who learned the skill of painting glow-in-the-dark numbers on clock faces and aeronautical gauges early in the twentieth century paid a stiff price for their part in this breakthrough involving the deadly element, radium. Moore sheds new light on a dark chapter in American labor history; the "Radium Girls," martyrs to an unholy alliance of commerce and science, live again in her telling" - Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

"Kate Moore vividly depicts the female factory workers whose courage led to a revolution in industrial safety standards. In describing their heart wrenching struggles and bittersweet triumphs, Moore delivers an intimate portrait of these pioneers. Uplifting and beautifully written, The Radium Girls is a tribute to the strength of women everywhere." - Nathalia Holt, New York Timesbestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us From Missiles to the Moon to Mars

"Kate Moore's gripping narrative about the betrayal of the radium girls-gracefully told and exhaustively researched-makes this a nonfiction classic. I particularly admire Moore's compassion for her subjects and her story-telling prowess, which brings alive a shameful era in America's industrial history." - Rinker Buck, author of The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey and Flight of Passage

"...[A] fascinating social history — one that significantly reflects on the class and gender of those involved — [is] Catherine Cookson meets Mad Men...The importance of the brave and blighted dial-painters cannot be overstated." - Sunday Times

"Kate Moore . . . writes with a sense of drama that carries one through the serpentine twists and turns of this tragic but ultimately uplifting story. She sees the trees for the wood: always at the center of her narrative are the individual dial painters, so the list of their names at the start of the book becomes a register of familiar, endearing ghosts." - Spectator

"In this thrilling and carefully crafted book, Kate Moore tells the shocking story of how early 20th-century corporate and legal America set about silencing dozens of working-class women who had been systematically poisoned by radiation ... Moore [writes] so lyrically ... FIVE STARS" - Mail on Sunday

"Aheartfelt...history." - Sunday Telegraph

"Moore's harrowing but humane story describes the struggle of a few brave women who took their case to court in a fight for justice that is still resonant today" - Saga

"Radium Girls was a wonderful and sad read about amazingly brave women.Kate Moore tells their incredible true story of tragedy and bravery in the face of corporate greed. We all should know the stories of these women who suffered through radium poisoning and refused to be silenced. This isn't just an important part of history, but a page turner that will leave you heartbroken and emboldened. It is a must read." - Rachel Ignotofsky, author of Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

"Radium Girls is a shocking, heartbreaking story of corporate greed and denial, and the strength of the human spirit in face of it.To read it is to honor these women who unwittingly sacrificed their lives but whose courage to stand up and be heard speaks to us from the grave.It is a tale for our times." - Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

"Written with the taut pacing of a novel, Kate Moore's The Radium Girls tells the horrifying true story of the young women who worked in radium dial factories in the 1920s and '30s...Their incredible story, beautifully told by Kate Moore, is sure to incite equal parts compassion and horror in the reader.

" - BookPage

Library Journal
★ 02/15/2017
Moore (Roses Are Red…) details the tragic stories of dozens of young women employed as dial painters during World War I. Often the daughters of immigrants, these women were lured to these prestigious and well-paying jobs unaware of the dangers of the radioactive paint present in their workplace—which caused their bodies and clothes to glow, even outside of work. With America's entry into World War I, demand for painted dials and painters skyrocketed. Soon, many employees suffered aching teeth and jaws, sore joints, and sarcomas. As their ailments worsened, many sought answers from their employers. They were met with denials and misinformation even as evidence mounted that radium poisoned these women. After nearly 20 years, several trials, and thousands of dollars in doctor and attorney fees, the women won a small measure of justice, but for some, it was too late. Moore's well-researched narrative is written with clarity and a sympathetic voice that brings these figures and their struggles to life. VERDICT A must-read for anyone interested in American and women's history, as well as topics of law, health, and industrial safety.—Chad E. Statler, Lakeland Comm. Coll., Kirtland, OH

Product Details

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6.20(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.80(d)
980L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Kate Moore is a Sunday Times bestselling writer with more than a decade's experience in writing across varying genres, including memoir, biography, and history. She was the director of the critically acclaimed play about The Radium Girls called These Shining Lives.

Angela Brazil is a professional actor who is proud to be a long-standing member of the Resident Acting Company at Trinity Repertory Company. She also teaches at the Brown/Trinity Conservatory. Angela lives with her family in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
A fascinating piece of hitory many are unaware of and written in a spellbinding way to keep the reader hooked on the stories of these courageous women.
Rosemary-Standeven 7 months ago
Times have changed, and with them our understanding of toxicity. In the 1920’s “on sale were radium jockstraps and lingerie, radium butter, radium milk, radium toothpaste and even a range of Radior cosmetics”. The radium factory girls wore “their good dresses to the plant so that they would become luminous when they went out to parties later.” After all, radium was safe. Except radium was never safe – and that had been known since very soon after its discovery in 1898. But no-one thought to tell the girls working with radium every day. “They put the brush to their lips, … dipped it in the radium … and painted the dials. It was a ‘lip, dip, paint routine’ … all day long”. The idea of being in a room with an unshielded radioactive source I find frightening enough, but to put a brush that has been in contact with radium into one’s mouth just fills me with a visceral horror. But much worse was to come. The book introduces you to several groups of vivacious, attractive young women, aged fourteen to about thirty. All with their lives ahead of them, their hopes for the future, their loves, their friends, their community – and then describes how, one by one, they sicken, prematurely age and die. They suffered months, years of excruciating pain, mouths filled with pus, teeth dropping out, jawbone disintegrating, huge bone tumours, physical deformities … And that was not the worst. The women could not get a diagnosis for what ailed them. It was apparent that something was wrong, but they could not get the factory executives to take them seriously, nor the doctors or dentists to really investigate the sicknesses: “they didn’t share notes, and so each case was viewed in isolation”. And every visit to the doctor or dentist cost money – lots of money. The sick women could no longer work – indeed some were fired for looking ill – so money became an increasingly acute problem. Then in the Great Depression, their husbands and fathers lost their work. In Ottawa “the women had split the town—and the disapproval went right to the top, with ‘business interests, politicians, and the clergy’ all against the women bringing suit” against one of the few remaining employers in the region. The radium companies lied, back-tracked, and did everything they could to discredit the women. Their so-called company doctor was a fraud, they hid evidence, and refused to put safety measures into place for the women still working in their factories. The women’s fight for justice took years, time that many of the women did not have. Their tenacity and heroism in a fight against overwhelming odds was awe inspiring. They were not seeking a huge pay out, but an acknowledgement of their suffering, and funds to cover their medical expenses. They continued to fight through the courts, even when literally on their death beds. Some helped from beyond the grave. This book made me sick to the stomach to read what these women had to endure – and so, so angry – but through their fight and dedication, we have stringent safety measures today covering all use of radioactive substances. They left their mark on legislation relating to occupational health, on international nuclear treaties, and on our understanding of the health risks of radioactivity. The Radium Girls left behind a monumental legacy – not just for their colleagues and their towns, but for the whole world. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Anonymous 26 days ago
Like The Cancer Ward and the muck raking books of the last century the book is a window in to the dangers of the unknown, the unstudied, and the abilities of corporate money to deny workers justice.
SUEHAV 28 days ago
I'm 70 years old and live in NJ. Cannot believe i've never heard about this before! Best book I've read in a long time.
krissysbookshelf 5 months ago
The Radium Girls is one of the most emotionally devastating, emotionally uplifting, roller coaster reads I have read in a very long time. I requested this book months ago and it took me forever to finish because there is just so much to take in mentally and emotionally while reading this book that I often had to set it down because I was both amazed and in tears because of what these women went through. Radium for those who don't know is a radioactive chemical that is very deadly to humans but many years ago was thought to have many uses both in home goods, health goods and beauty supplies and thought to be good for you. It was put into baby food, make up and in house hold objects until very quickly it was discovered that everyone who was exposed to it either died or became very ill from it. Radium Girls were the women who handled radium at the factory they worked and painted it on clock faces. I couldn't believe how many times they were assured that everything was fine in a time when they were discovering just how deadly it was and being allowed to handle it despite the fact that they actually glowed from it. The sad poor conditions and dismissal of such severe sickness and after effects they endured just because they were women, the company that denied any wrong doing, and the fight they had to take up to garner any attention broke my heart. Its sad to think so much of this history gets forgotten by so many and how the turn of events that led to us (women) having better treatment in the work place took so much sacrifice on their behalf. I would love to see inspiration for this book be turned into a film, I honestly think it would be an amazing movie. I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it.
brf1948 7 months ago
I received a free copy of The Radium Girls, a recreation of the lives of the many young women brought down by radiation poisoning in the early 1900’s from Netgalley, Kate Moore and Sourcebook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, for sharing your hard work with me. Kate Moore brings us an intimate look through the eyes of these girls, recreating their lives from diaries, letters and court testimonies, tombstones, family stories and dusty archives. She brings to life these feisty girls who spent their days painting minuscule radium numbers on watch faces, gun sights, and airplane dashboards. This work, done quickly and well, provided a fine income for an artistic young woman. Many applied for these jobs and encouraged their sisters and friends to apply, as well – both for the experience of working with this miraculous material discovered by the Curie’s, and to do their part for the war effort. The price they paid for this experience was horrendous. This is a story that needs to be shared so their sacrifices are not in vain, and as a cautionary tale as our world spins rapidly into tomorrow.
etoile1996 7 months ago
i'd never heard the story of the radium girls. i didn't know it was a thing. the only radium story i knew was the story of marie curie. when radium was first discovered it was thought to be a miracle element. it's glowing aspect was something alluring. and the discovery that it could shrink tumors is the basis of some of today's cancer treatments. however during world war i and into the 1920s, radium was used in all sorts of manners and the impact of those uses destroyed the lives of many—including the bright, young, hard-working women that are the heart of this story. what makes this narrative so compelling is the amount of research and attention to detail moore put into bringing the girls to life. they are the heart of the story. they are the ones who suffer most acutely. they are the ones who are screwed over time and time again by big business and money and politics. the description of their suffering is so vivid at times, you'd think you were watching a horror movie. dying of radium poisoning is not a walk in the park. the amount of suffering, the length of time, the death sentence—because there is no cure—it is unimaginable what these girls endured. and yet moore takes us on their journey from the beginning—from the excitement of being a dial painter and the glory of being one of these luminous girls—to the at time sudden, at times slow, deterioration of health—to the resulting medical treatments and investigations—to the court battles—to the lives cut short and the legacy they left behind. moore spins a fascinating story, once you pick it up it is impossible to put down. it's a story worth reading, if only to see how long women have been battling for respect and consideration in the workplace. those girls were considered expendable by many, but their suffering was so great that it became an impetus for change and because they refused to be silenced they were able to get some justice, even if it was too late to save their lives. **the radium girls published on april 18, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/sourcebooks in exchange for my honest review.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Well writtentale
Tangen 8 months ago
historical-research, historical-places-events, pathology, greed This book was a heartbreaking read. The clarity of descriptions of the destruction of their bodies and their lives gives testimony to the greed of the employers as well as the short sightedness of the purveyors who touted the health benefits of such products as radium water. And the girls themselves were unable to believe that having their clothes and bodies glow in the dark was anything but a bit of fun. I do wonder if anyone outside of the paramedical professions can see modern parallels. The writing is absorbing and one keeps hoping that something will ease their suffering. But we know better. When they finally find legal support, they still have to fight hard and suffer more humiliation. Their story needs to be remembered in its entirety, not only to grant them the dignity they were denied in life, but to serve as a warning to the future. I was provided with a free ARC at my request courtesy of NetGalley.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Anonymous 7 months ago
I got it cheaper at the store