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

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

You might wonder who The Radium Girls were…. 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.

The radium girls working: 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 the radium girls.

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 has agreed to give an interview on my blog! Read my interview with Kate Moore about writing The Radium Girls.

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!

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Margaret Kingsbury
4 years ago

Will definitely be reading this. Thanks for the recommend!

4 years ago

Wow, this sounds like a great book!

Brian Joseph
4 years ago

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.

Laurel-Rain Snow
4 years ago

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!

Lampshade Reader
4 years ago

I have heard of this. It is really sad what happened to them. Look forward to the interview. 🙂 ~Aleen

4 years ago

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.

Rain @ Ivyclad Ideas
4 years ago

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.

Jackie B.
4 years ago

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.
4 years ago

Have you found any exceptional non-fiction books? I can’t wait to see what you’ve discovered!

Jackie B.
4 years ago

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!!

Hayley @ RatherTooFondofBooks

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.


[…] Baking Powder Wars I got quite early in April, and I’ve already reviewed it here on my Goodreads. It was full of very interesting facts, but they weren’t presented in the best way. Surely non-fiction can be written better than that, as we know by The Radium Girls? […]


[…] we are finally here today with the long-awaited interview with Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls. As Kate takes off on her tour of the US with her book (which I urge you not to miss), we will be […]


[…] has been quite productive on the blog! I have published reviews for Children of the Different and The Radium Girls. I specifically urge you to read about The Radium Girls, if you […]


[…] off my desire to write reviews about things that matter. So I carried on with The Radium Girls, and now – with The Boy Who Loved Too Much. I believe that all of us should read more about […]

Nicholas LeDoux
Nicholas LeDoux
4 years ago

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… Read more »

4 years ago

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!


[…] we are finally here today with the long-awaited interview with Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls. As Kate takes off on her tour of the US with her book (which I urge you not to miss), we will be […]


[…] of you who follow my blog, will have heard about these many, many times. The Radium Girls is the book I probably won’t ever shut up about. For those who haven’t been subjected […]

Hanna @ Booking in Heels

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… Read more »

Hanna @ Booking in Heels

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… Read more »

4 years ago

This was a really shocking book.
Like people taking radium baths and then like you wrote putting the brushes in their mouths!!
Just when I think the world has some hope, I read books like these and become pessimist again.


[…] The Radium Girls. It was just such a strong story that I could not help but champion. It has been one of my biggest reviews and I also interviewed the author. It has been a big milestone for my blog, and I also have the […]

Sim @Flipping Thru the Pages

Just Awesome 🙂 I have nothing else to say!

3 years ago

I absolutely loved this book and I’m so glad you enjoyed it! This is such an important novel for people to read and I was in tears when reading about the suffering these women endured and how they fought for worker’s rights. I don’t read nonfiction very often, but this was worth it and I felt grateful for having received an ARC of this!