You are probably familiar with the saying “truth is stranger than fiction”. I think this book fits into that category perfectly. The events detailed in this work are like something out of a sci-fi movie. The pages of this book tell the stories of the young ladies who worked as painters in the radium dial industry starting in 1917. At the time the story opens, the scientific community’s understanding of radium and its effects was still in its infancy, but the substance’s characteristic of glowing in the dark made it a very profitable business venture. It was used commercially as a paint for the dials of clocks so that the numbers could be seen in the dark. As World War I began it became highly demanded for the instrument dials used in the military. The challenge at the time was that the painting of these dials had to be done by hand, this led to large-scale hiring of young girls as dial-painters. The girls were told that the substance was safe and they would even paint the substance on their bodies so that they could glow-in-the-dark when they went on dates. The painting technique involved putting the brush between the lips in order to form a point and in this manner the girls were ingesting the radium in dangerous quantities. Radium was also being used at the time as a treatment for cancer, and as an additive to health tonics.
It didn’t take long before some of the girls starting having health problems. Often the first indication that something was wrong was when a girl’s teeth starting to loosen and fall out. Some girls began to have sarcomas. One of the girls had to go so far as to have an arm amputated because of a sarcoma. It took a few years for the various doctors and dentists who were treating these girls to understand that the root cause of the symptoms was the radium that they had worked with. This diagnosis led to a long, drawn-out legal process as the girls tried to get the companies to take responsibility for having lied to them and to offer some compensation for the pain and expenses they had endured.
The author’s stated objective with this book is to tell the story of “The Radium Girls” from the perspective of the women themselves and she has done just that. I found this book to be both shocking and emotionally moving. These girls are heroes for the fight they put up, and without their efforts this country may not even have a process for protecting the health and safety of workers. Today, we take for granted, and are sometimes annoyed by, the safety procedures present in our workplaces, but after reading this book you will never take them for granted again. I think this book should be required reading and I am giving it a 5-star rating because of the quality of the writing and the importance of its message.
Alinefromabook’s rating: 5 stars!!