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

"Radium Girls," by Kate Moore

This terrific book is about two of my favorite themes: fighting for justice and giving voice to the voiceless.

It’s an exhaustively researched 475-page tome that flies by with the speed of a novel. I appreciated that the author, being a theater director, was committed to assembling a deep cast of characters and putting the story in their own words and the words of their family and friends as much as possible.

"Radium Girls" truly puts women at the heart of the story. These women who worked in various radium dial factories during WWI and beyond were daily and knowingly exposed to radium with no safety precautions put in place by their employers. Many died horrific early deaths, while others met slow, excruciating ends. Radium caught up with all of them no matter what. Their fight was not to be cured — an impossible wish given their levels of exposure — but to prevent such a fate from happening to others.

I closed the last page feeling some feelings…

1. This story is incredible and tragic, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard it before (except via Terry Gross’s interview with the author, Kate Moore, in 2017). I'm so glad Moore took up their cause.

2. Corporations when only motivated by profit are terrifying and evil, and this is one of the most stunning examples I've read.

3. I keep picturing myself in their shoes, going through my tasks each day with radium attacking my bones, organs, jaw and skull and growing cancers on my extremities. I can’t fathom how they coped, and I feel so grateful for my comparative health.

4. These women were truly remarkable for the legal, medical and scientific battles they fought, and we are still benefiting even though many of us are unaware.

5. Justice is a dish best served promptly.

6. Let’s never let this kind of industrial travesty happen again.

7. Whatever you do, don’t Google “radium necrosis.”


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