Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 5 stars
Radium was first discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie. Almost immediately after its discovery, it became widely used for scientific experimentation, as well as commercially due to its perceived curative powers. Radium was added to tonics, toothpastes, beauty products, food items, and more. Radium's most common use was in making paint luminous and then paint on clocks and watch dials by the U.S. Radium Corporation employees.
When the U.S. joined WWI in 1917, American women flocked to factories and mills to "do their part". One of the most coveted position was to be a "shining girl" painting watch faces, so named because the radium powdered caused the works to glow. Here workers sharpened the point of their paint brushes in their mouth, used luminescent paint to paint their fingernails and as eyeliner, not knowing just how sick their job was making them.
Radium Girls is about these workers and the lengths their employer went to discredit them in the press to avoid paying them any compensation. Moore does an amazing job telling the girls' stories, sparing no detail in describing their suffering. This is a phenomenal and well researched book. I was well aware of the story of the Radium Girls but was still horrified and incensed at the victimization of these women. It is a fascinating read that also remains respectful of their legacy and impact on labor history. I cannot possibly recommend this book enough.