Illness, Loved-it, NetGalley, Non-fiction, Women's

Why were they called The Girls With Radioactive Bones? The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore

They were called The Girls With Radioactive Bones.

There were newspaper headlines such as Living Dead’ Win In Court’ about them.

And all that – almost a hundred years ago.

I’m going to tell you a very painful, sad, but strong story of fighting for your rights, for justice, for your honor even. So let’s start.

If there was ever a time that I wanted to believe the Christian hell with burning pits of fire, it would be when reading The Radium Girls. It’s because you can sell anything. You can make people believe the worst poison is a cure. You can sell other people’s lives. And in the process, sell your own soul. And that’s what the burning hell is there for.

So if you still haven’t heard what The Radium Girls is about, let it be my pleasure to enlighten you.

Back in the early 20th century, people didn’t know a lot about radiation. Rather, they did, but they didn’t have a habit of sharing information, like we do now. Which is why it was thought that radium, a highly radioactive substance, was in fact good for you. Because it sold well. Because any miracle cure always sells well.

So nobody even batted an eyelash when radium dial clock factories sprang up and started hiring young women to paint in their studios. Not wearing any protective suits. Putting the radium-covered brush straight into their mouths. Ingesting the radium. Like they were instructed. Because ‘the radium is good for you’. It will put rosy cheeks on you.

Photo courtesy of The Atlantic

It’s not that they didn’t bat an eyelash, really – they were actually even jealous of the girls, of their shining clothes and shining hair – as they returned from work. All covered in radioactive, glaring radium.  Like a fairytale curse – enchanted pixie dust, that will bring you happiness, a fortune, that will make your position coveted and make every other girl jealous of your angelic glow. And yet, coming with a price akin to the fairytale one, where you have to give away your firstborn. Which was also what some of these girls pretty much did.

Unfortunately for them, back in the 1920’s, the US government wasn’t too keen about interfering with companies. So when they started dying horrible, torturous deaths one by one, dropping like flies, nobody intervened. They were called names. Liars. They were said to have died of sexually transmitted diseases. All the while suffering the worst kind of physical pain, because… the radium was literally in their bones. So much so, that decades, hundreds of years after we’re all gone, the remains of these girls in their graves will still glow and emit radiation.

So this story is about how these poor, brave women fought for justice, for at least a little bit of honor in the end of their lives, and for the ones after them. For all of you. Because this is why you can now boast some safety in your jobs. This is why you are not forced to quit when you get sick. It’s also why your bosses are not allowed to blatantly lie to you if they make you work with dangerous substances. And especially as women (if you, reader, are one), you have a lot to thank these girls for.

I could say so much about this story. In fact, I could quote the entire book. But that would kind of defeat the purpose of you reading it, wouldn’t it? Which is what I must urge you to do, because you must know. You must know how much pain it took for our lives to be paved the way they are, to build up to this point. This is the least we can do for these girls – hear their story. Say a prayer for them. Remember them.

The women we meet in this book are all so exceptional, bright, warm, cheerful. The way some of them fight this incredibly crippling condition they’re faced with was so inspiring. And heartbreaking, at the same time. This book doesn’t read like like non-fiction, for starters! You will be drawn into the story instantly, you will even cry. Some of you – more than once. You will curse the people who did this to them, even though they knew what they were doing. You will be angry, maybe even furious. I don’t see how anyone could remain a stone statue in the presence of something like this. I dare you.

But your heart will also swell with love. For the wonderful people who helped them. For the husbands and lovers of those young women who never threw them away, even when they were helpless shadows of their former selves, unable to move, to speak, to eat. You will bless the few lawyers and judges who weren’t in it for the money, who fought for justice and for their own belief in the world. And most of all, your heart will swell with love for those young women who had no other option but to die, to die a graceful death, to die a proud death – because that’s all that was left to them.

Precious materials are more precious than human life. Such is the tendency today as well. Maybe not in the Western world anymore. But in some places of the world it still is. In the beginning of this post, I said anything can be sold. This book will make you wonder what is being sold to you right now.

I am also very happy to announce to you all that the author Kate Moore has agreed to give an interview on my blog! I will be publishing it in the coming two weeks, most likely, and you are very welcome to hear the story of how this book came to be. I have a lot of respect for Kate because of how warmly she treated the memory of the girls when she was writing this book.

I am also deeply thankful to Kate Moore and Sourcebooks for giving me an advance copy of in exchange for my honest review. This was a bigger gift than you could imagine. This book was worth all my love and all my tears.

If you feel for these girls and their story, please share this post. We must make stories like this heard. I want this story to be known by as many people as possible, so we can all honor their memory. Thank you for reading!

I’m Evelina and I try to blog about books that matter, with a bit of fun there too! Disability and equality will be topics you see a lot, but there’s also a lot of scifi, fantasy and… GIFs. I’m also the proud founder of #ARCsAnonymous.

40 thoughts on “Why were they called The Girls With Radioactive Bones? The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore

  1. Superb post.

    I want to read this book. Your commentary on at and obviously the book itself delves in to so many important issues.

    Sadly the profit motive and other considerations are often favored over human life. Then ethical and decent people must oppose this.

    I am looking forward to your interview with Kate Moore.
    Brian Joseph recently posted…Mansfield Park by Jane AustenMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Brian. Yes, indeed.. it seems that even thought hundreds of years has passed, but our culture hasn’t changed a lot since the middle ages. Or earlier. It truly is a sad thing.

  2. Wow! But not surprising, since almost everything we accept in our daily lives has more to the story than any of us know. Years from now, they will find out that things we took for granted as “good for us” were really deadly.

    Like all the medications that the doctors want us to take…just because.

    Thanks for sharing…I definitely want to read this one!
    Laurel-Rain Snow recently posted…AUTHOR’S HOME PAGEMy Profile

    1. Yeah, exactly. Or like… communications, all those magnetic fields always being around? Who actually knows what they’re doing, or if they’re really harmless? I’m not one for those theories people often spawn online, but you know. This book really made me think. And you should definitely check it out! I’m sure you’ll like it.

  3. This one is new to me but pretty horrifying. And it’s mind boggling to me that gov’t just let this go- that’s what happens when we turn a blind eye to companies’ excesses. Unbelievable. Thanks for sharing, and I’ll look forward to your interview as well.
    Greg recently posted…Sunday Post #191My Profile

    1. Exactly!!! I was shocked as well. But sometimes it’s very hard to truly understand and believe that the world 100 years ago was very different from today. It didn’t just happen. Gradual changes.

  4. I’d heard about this vaguely, but not in great detail. It’s awful. Not only were they in indescribable pain, but then their characters were assassinated too to ensure that no one would believe them.
    Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? I think it might interest you.
    Rain @ Ivyclad Ideas recently posted…Easter Book Haul (Sunday Post #8)My Profile

  5. OHMYGOSH. This is TERRIBLE!!! Why have I never heard of this before? I mean– this review is brilliant, obviously. You completely hooked me and I MUST read this book now. Wow.

    I am so excited for your interview with Kate Moore! That’s really exciting. I can’t wait to hear about how she learned about this and how it became a topic of a book for her. I’ll definitely need to read this, and your interview.
    Jackie B. recently posted…Blogging Life: Why You Need To Understand Your PlatformMy Profile

    1. Yep 🙂 you absolutely MUST. I have also just sent out the interview questions to Kate! Hopefully I can post soon.
      This book just gave me SO MANY FEELS. Never thought non-fiction could be like this, honestly. Been reading a lot more of it since this one!

        1. Yep! Well, you already know about The Radium Girls 🙂 then, currently I’m reading Quackery – you might still be able to get it on NetGalley, if you want. It’s one of those lovely “just flick through” books which I’d love to actually have in print. It’s one of those things you’d sit in the corner and read when you were a kid and had all the time in the world – because it’s got all those weird treatments people used in the middle ages, got pretty pics, photos, colorful pages… Like a fun encyclopedia type. It’s great fun to read without even any particular order to it. It’s too bad it’s an acsm, which means I won’t be able to hang onto even the PDF version after I’ve read it. It’s great fun though.

          1. Quackery looks hilarious! I totally understand why you might want a physical copy. That said, it’s a bit big for a coffee table cook! I love non-fiction heavy on the photographs. Thanks for the recommendation!!
            Jackie B. recently posted…It Started With GoodbyeMy Profile

  6. Great review! This really does sound like a fascinating book for so many reasons. It’s so shocking to think the women had no protection from the radium! I’m definitely adding this book to my wish list.

  7. I seen this Cover on a newsletter at the library just recently and notice the attention its already getting at the Library it self. I think its definitely a “give it a try” book to read. I won’t say no to this book down the road, but may not read it off the bat. I always felt sorry not just for women, but also children who suffer for what ever the reason may be back in the days. Time has change to save humanity. But got to wonder, what has taken its place. Like some action series, there’s always a new villain to take the place of the one previously fallen. May not be death this time, but greed, selfishness, or what? I would feel sorry for anyone who works because its the “thing” to do.

    That was off the trail, but as I said, I’ll read the book, but not as preference but as a most likely side of maybe. Your review touch my humanitarian side (probably the right word to describe).

    1. Yeah, the problem of this story was also mostly greed! And you give good points. Also yes. You should only read this when you are in a good place in your life, because it WILL make you sad. But you make me glad that it’s popular in the library! I’m happy for this book finally getting that story “out there”, and also because it feels great to have read a book this big before it was even published 🙂

  8. I went into this article curious, but not having any understanding of what I was getting into. I can only imagine the emotional rollercoaster that this book will take me on. Even reading your descriptions, I felt myself getting a little heated about something that I had never heard about before today.

    I can’t take you up on your stone statue challenge because I’m a suck, but I’m excited to read this book .Thank you so much for recommending this!
    Lindsay recently posted…The Wordy Traveler: June UnboxingMy Profile

    1. I’m glad I’ve engaged your emotions. This is precisely what I was trying to achieve with that review 🙂 it’s a very important topic, so I just want as many people as possible to find out about this. And it’s my pleasure to recommend! I hope you like it, and once you read it, please share your review with me 🙂 I’ll be very curious to find out what you thought.

  9. Sorry sorry sorry – I know this is a really old post and it’s a bit weird that I’m commenting, but I clicked on this book title from your Mid-Year Freakout Post (because I just added you to my Bloglovin and it’s waving your last few posts in my face)… and that’s my explanation done. Sorry.

    But I just had to say that I NEED this book. I hadn’t heard of it before, but if I don’t own it soon I might possibly just keel over and die. Luckily it’s my birthday soon and hopefully I’ll get vouchers, but if not… well, I don’t know. BUT I MUST OWN THIS.

    Thanks for the review. You read such different books!
    Hanna @ Booking in Heels recently posted…July 2018 Wrap-UpMy Profile

    1. Oh no, not weird at all! Please comment on any old post of mine that you can find 🙂 especially this one! You might have noticed that I have featured these posts on my sidebar. So I want people to see them and to keep checking them out 🙂 especially this book, as it means so much to me. I’m really glad you clicked that link 🙂 and thank you for commenting!

      And you ABSOLUTELY need this book. You so totally need to know! I also hadn’t heard of it, and seeing something like that is… I don’t know, life-changing? If you know what I mean.

      Oh hey, when is your birthday? Mine’s in a couple of days as well. And yes, I read very different books! I don’t know if it’s a good thing though 😀 I believe I get less followers that way! LOL they say you need to be centered on one particular thing, but that’s just not me.

      1. Oh, I know that nobody really mind comments on old posts – I certainly don’t! But logic and reason often fly in the face of what I lovingly refer to as Commenting Anxiety! For what it’s worth, I’m glad I clicked on it too as I’m now desperate to read this book.

        Yeah, after I read this review, I started researching it and then I was reading about Marie Curie and then I was looking at something else… two hours later I was remarkably well informed 😉 I mean, the housework wasn’t done, but hey, knowledge, right? 🙂

        Mine’s on the 4th, on Friday. When’s yours?

        I’ve noticed that you don’t tend to get as many followers when you read the less mainstream (arguably more interesting?) books, but the followers you do get are often like-minded people! I’d rather have that than fifty million followers any day!
        Hanna @ Booking in Heels recently posted…July 2018 Wrap-UpMy Profile

        1. Commenting anxiety! I see 🙂 I think I maybe used to have it, but don’t anymore? Because I know how much most bloggers enjoy comments 🙂

          I’m glad you read up on the subject. I should recommend you Quackery as well – I think it’s still available on NetGalley. There’s a chapter in there for all sorts of radium treatments! That book has other interesting points as well.

          Mine’s on the 3rd! Go figure 🙂

          Yeah, you’re right 🙂 YA or crime bloggers seem to always have so many followers. But that’s just not my thing, you are right 🙂

    1. It was shocking indeed! For me, the most shocking part must’ve been with the sand? Like when they dumped radioactive sand in a children’s playground and said it was good for them?? That bit.
      But you know, there is some good in this, if you try to look at it from the bright side. If not for these women, we’d still all be slaves, basically. They have given us worker rights, at least a lot of people in the US, cause it’s a little different for where I live, we had other people to look out for us. But in America… If not for them, workers’ health would be still largely looked over, probably. And things like this don’t happen right now, at least not so much, right? So there’s your bright side. Don’t be pessimist 🙂 they won! They did A LOT of good. And if they were looking down on us right now, I would bow my head to them and say, YOU DID A GREAT JOB. Your life MEANT something. How many of us can say that? That we really, truly mattered, helped? Yes, they suffered – but it wasn’t in vain. Their sacrifice was lifechanging. Their suffering didn’t just die with them. For better or worse, there are now people like me, who did not even know them, looking back on their lives, dreaming of visiting their graves and putting flowers on it. Maybe not so many of us. But they live on.

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