Let’s chat about books: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

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Mia Bolyard

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Dipping back into the world of nonfiction, I present to you The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore.

Radium Girls details the women working as dial painters for radium companies in the 1920s. As time goes on for the ladies, whether still dial painting or not, they begin experiencing extreme health problems such as rotting jaws, cancerous growths in limbs, even spine damage. With radium being such a new chemical there was no knowledge of these side effects, but over time it was hard to deny the trend. Unless you were the United States Radium Corporation. Then it’s rather simple to deny until the end.

The plot of the story begins with doctors stumped by the mysterious symptoms the women faced, the USRC searching for their own answers, and two separate court cases in which justice for these women was the goal. The fact that these were all true events makes the corrupt actions of the USRC so infuriating and each loss of another radium girl all the more devastating.

While reading the book, I often balked at the thought that none of these people saw the red flags early on. However, it’s thanks to these stories that I have the privilege of knowing to stay away from radioactive substances and to have that “if it makes me glow say no” attitude. When looking back through history there are many times when something was suggested to the public that is now abhorred today. So when reading, one must remind themselves that there will be a lot of hindsight bias.

Overall, though this slice of history fills me with a rage, it was an interesting read. The book was written in a third person narrative style while maintaining the vibe of a history book. It was well written overall, but at times it was hard to keep up with the names spoken of. Though there was a list in the beginning of the book to keep me on track with a list of characters and their origins, it at times felt like too much. Not to mention too many Catherines!! But I digress.

The book has major themes of accountability and sexism. The company did everything they could to still profit from the product they knew was killing their workers. They even lied to their faces saying all was fine. Not to mention the very fact that the women were put in such danger in the first place. The men who worked with radium were given many forms of protection gear, as they understood the element needed to be handled with care. But the women? They were instructed to put radium saturated brushes into their mouths. Plus, the case only got serious after a well known male celebrity and a male scientist died of radium necrosis. Why is that? Oh yeah. Because sexisim.

This book is a really good historical text that I highly recommend to the history buffs out there. I give it a 4/5. However, this is purely because the names got me jumbled around too much. If it weren’t for that factor I would give this a 5/5 review. The book incites emotion (mostly anger) and taught me some history I hadn’t learned about in my classes before.

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