The 1920s was a time of flappers and speakeasies, of jazz and dance, of prohibition and women’s suffrage. It was a time of economic growth and industry. It was a time where the arts experienced the rise of creativity, of the Harlem Renaissance, and a time of death for America’s working class women. With the invention of Undark, a luminescent paint, came a great demand for watches and gauges with glow-in-the-dark numbers – numbers that were meticulously painted on dials by young women under the guise of the paint being completely safe. Instructed to “lip, dip, paint,” these women ingested large amounts of radioactive material during the course of their employment. As a result, many suffered necrosis of their jaws, loss of their teeth and limbs, various cancers, and painfully abnormal growths known as sarcomas on their bodies. Because little was known about radium aside from its ability to target diseased cells, the radioactive substance was considered to be a miracle remedy, capable of bestowing good health on those consuming it. This made the girls, who received high wages for their work, extremely fortunate. At least, until they began dying.
In The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women unfolds an expertly written account based on the lives, diaries, and several other sources of eleven of the Radium Girls. Author Kate Moore brings to life the trials and tribulations that these hard-working women faced in the 1920s and 1930s as they fought for justice in the wake of work-related poisoning. Moore’s attention to detail and well-researched facts come together in a heartrending fashion, laying bare the atrocities inflicted by the United States Radium Corporation and the Radiant Dial Corporation upon innocent lives – for their poor handling of a hazardous material reached beyond their employees, affecting not only the women that worked in their factories, but also their families, their children, and future generations.
I could not suppress the anger that rose up within me as I read these pages. The haunting tale that Moore has penned kept me awake for several nights because it explores the seemingly bottomless depth of how far corporations and those that run them will go to ensure that they are not held accountable for their actions. My heart broke and I wept as I followed these wonderful, optimistic ladies as they fought for justice against those responsible for their conditions. There were times in which I had to lay my book down, for fear of hurling my iPad against the wall because the bitterness and hatred that I felt for those responsible for these poor women was so strong. Moore undoubtedly excels at bringing to life the stories of the living dead and this is one book I definitely intend to put on my shelf.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with an advance copy of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore through NetGalley for the purpose of an unbiased review.