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

On May 17, 2017 by Dawn

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like my last review, (and entirely unintentionally) The Radium Girls is another historical piece with a feminist angle, this time set in the last days of the industrial revolution.

Radium and its uses having been recently discovered, the excitement surrounding this new substance was matched only by our ignorance of it. It glows! In the dark! All by itself! This is amazing! What we didn’t know, of course, is that it’s poison, of the long, slow, torturous type.

In these pages are the story of the young women who found that out the hard way.

What I (for one) didn’t know is how much we as a society owe the memory of these poor, crumbling women. Years of legal battles, first to ensure Radium was listed as causing an “industrial illness” gaining protection for those working near it, and then for a pittance of compensation from a indifferent ex-employer. They fought and won, cementing the responsibility of employers to keep their workers safe. Even the women.

Finally, in death, or decades of living in frail bodies, still they gave more, as medical science studied, tested, poked and tracked their symptoms.

Without these women, many more would have died in industrial poisoning, but that’s not all. In later years science applied what we’d learned from studying them to all kinds of radiation, from the infamous Manhattan Project to the types of shielding used in nuclear reactors.

The Radium Girls is eminently readable, and is definitely going on my recommended reading list.

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