In The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, As World War I began, the military needed luminous dials to help the soldiers at night. Answering the call to make these dials were hundreds of young women who were lured in by higher than normal wages. Made with radium, a substance we now know to be harmful, these women were instructed to use their mouths to get a fine point on the brushes they used to paint the numerals. They were never told that radium could kill them. Years later in two towns, eight hundred miles apart, these workers began to get horrifically ill and die. They refused to go down without a fight and bravely fought the companies who had poisoned them. It is because of these extraordinary women that we have OSHA and safe guards in place for handling radioactive material.
One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was that the town I live in, Ottawa, Illinois, was home to several of these women who were affected by the negligent Radium Dial company. In 2011, the city unveiled a statue honoring these women, which put the story in my mind but I never followed up on any personal research. Imagine my surprise to learn that the studio was located less than one block from my apartment and that I drove past the property millions of times without knowing it’s history. Or that a house blocks from me was once the residence of Catherine Wolfe, who led the fight to win compensation from Radium Dial.
I alternated between anger and horror reading this book. I was angry because these women were murdered by companies who knew radium was dangerous but yet the companies kept that information from their workers. I was horrified by how much these women suffered as the radium slowly killed them. There were several times when I had to put the book away because it was so overwhelming.
It is very obvious from the moment you start reading this book, that Moore has done extensive research into these women’s lives. Moore writes so well and with such consideration to a heartbreaking story that I felt like these women had come back from the past to personally tell me their story. Moore has written a beautiful tribute to these women that will help them live on for future generations to read and learn about. Anyone interested in history would enjoy this fantastic book.
Title: The Radium Girls
Author: Kate Moore