It is often the most troubling and disturbing of stories that go untold in a nation’s history. The story of how hundreds of girls died of radium poisoning is one of those tales. Kate Moore takes nonfiction accounts and first-hand reports, using them to weave a story of how America’s young girls were exploited and in some cases, knowingly poisoned.
Moore chooses different protagonists across the United States such as Katherine Schaub, describing how she, like so many other women, joined radium dial factories. She did not know the danger of radium. In fact, no one did. The element was thought to be the new fix-it drug, a chemical meant to cure cancer, and a shiny sheen that could be added to any product, particularly watches.
Girls across the country joined radium factories, where they painted watches with diluted radium mix. They were taught that radium was harmless, even beneficial, many painted themselves with it so that they shone in the night. They licked their brushes to make the paint even finer, and without knowing it, poisoning themselves. Once the factories and corporations like the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation knew of these side effects of radium, however, they did nothing to help the hundreds of girls whose lives had come to an end so soon.
Not only did these organizations ignore the problem, they actively sought to hide the evidence of their past crimes. The fight by the radium girls to reclaim their rights and restitution was one of the most notable workers rights legal cases of the century. And The Radium Girls is a thrilling retelling of that journey towards justice.
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