The Radium Girls

Written by Kate Moore
Review by Cassandra Clark

The glamour job for young American women between 1917 and 1926 was to paint radium on watches, clock faces, and military dials. It was both magical-seeming, the girls themselves shining in the dark from the radium dust that covered them and also useful for the U.S. war effort. When the bosses were asked: will this stuff hurt us?, the emphatic answer was ‘no.’ Of course, we know now that radium is lethal; it is a poison that attacks the whole body, leading to a slow, painful and disfiguring death.

Moore has written a detailed account of the long fight-back through the courts by these dogged and largely uneducated young women when the company refused to accept responsibility for what they had encouraged. Her detailed account of their fight, the result of which many of them did not live to see, will make you weep with rage. A tour-de-force of journalism with a meticulous trawl through primary sources and many first-hand accounts of the effect on victims and their families, it is a must-read for anyone interested in the collision between personal and corporate interests.