Radium Girls

Radium Girls
by Kate Moore
Nonfiction
* * * * Stars (Great!)

During WWI a number of young women worked in factories as dial painters – using radium paint to illuminate the numbers and dials of wristwatches and console panels.  They did not know then that radium was harmful.  Over time, these women developed terrible and debilitating illnesses, many of which proved to be fatal.  Those that sought medical assistance were often misdiagnosed and all along, their employers assured the girls that working with (and even ingesting) radium was safe.  They were wrong, but the workers had to fight to prove that radium had poisoned them, and that the companies had been knowingly negligent.  As noted in the epilogue, other books have been published on this subject, but Kate Moore’s exploration takes a more personal look at the women whose lives were affected, and often lost, serving the greed and business interests of the companies they worked for.  Detailed descriptions of the girls’ medical conditions are horrifying and the refusal of their employers to take responsibility, apologize, and do the right thing is infuriating.  Ultimately, changes were made to offer more protections to workers as a result of the lawsuits the radium girls initiated, but their lives were cut short and, in some cases, their remaining time was spent fighting this injustice.  An emotionally powerful read.

Reviewed by YA Librarian