I received this book from Net Galley back in the fall. It is the true story of the women who worked in a watch factory, using radium to illuminate the dials. These young women suffered horrible effects from ingesting the radium as they licked their paint brushes:
The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice…
As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.
A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.
Kate Moore is a Sunday Times best selling writer with more than a decade’s experience writing and ghosting across varying genres, including memoir, biography, and history. In 2005 she directed a critically acclaimed play about the Radium Girls called ‘These Shining Lives.’ She lives in the UK.
Not surprisingly, this is a highly upsetting read. I had nightmares. But – it’s a true story and these women should not be forgotten. To think that they were told all was safe and it wasn’t, along with feeling that they were fortunate to be in these jobs that eventually killed them – well, this was one read that I won’t forget any time soon.
Some of my theater friends were in a fantastic musical theater production of Radium Girls here in the Boston area and won several awards for it. I recommend it if you come across it. I don’t know if this is the same play as the one cited above.
Thank you for my review e-copy.
Since I have a bit of commute for school pick-up, I’ve been listening to more audiobooks in the car these past few months. I get them from the local library. Recently I listened to “The Daring Ladies of Lowell” by Kate Alcott (author of The Dressmaker – which I also listened to on audio) which is read by Cassandra Campbell.
I live near the Lowell Mills and I have always found their history fascinating. In this novel, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell to work in the mills. She is a fairly typical “mill girl”, having left her family farm for work in the city and some independence. Alice lives in a boarding house (very typical of the time) with several other mill girls. Then one of them is found dead — suicide is suspected but it turns to murder. Alice becomes involved in the trial and in trying to bring her friend’s murderer to justice. Along the way, the girls are fighting for better working conditions and health protection, and Alice finds herself falling in love with the son of the mill owner.
The following contains SPOILERS!
I enjoyed listening to this book. I have to say I was a bit freaked out by the health issues some of the girls had that I was unaware of — coughing up “cotton balls” of lint from breathing it in during production, and eventually having their lungs ruined. That was quite disturbing. Lovey’s murder is also quite disturbing – she is pregnant and the number one suspect is an itinerant minister. Interestingly, this part of the novel was based on the real life murder of a mill girl, and Alcott even used the trial testimony and some real names. (In real life, though, the murder took place in Fall River – still in Massachusetts but not Lowell).
The only thing that didn’t “work” for me in this story was the romance. It seemed fairly improbable that the mill owner’s son would fall in love with a worker (and I don’t mean “lust after” but truly “fall in love”). The class divide was pretty great in those days and the working class was often “invisible” to the wealthy. It was fine; I just had to suspend my disbelief during those scenes!
Here’s a great article from the Globe about the real murder in Massachusetts that this is based on and how Ms. Alcott came to write about it:
You can see this book on Indie Bound where I am an Affiliate:
Find it at an Indie!