The Radium Girls
by Kate Moore
What is the value of a woman’s life?
In 1925, many poor, uneducated women in Illinois worked in the dial painting factory, applying luminous paint to watches. Unbeknownst to them, the paint contained a radioactive material, radium, which would eventually kill them.
As they sickened and died, they sought medical help, and eventually, legal help.
The authorities, the medical community, their employers, and their communities were against them. One attorney after another refused to represent them, until they eventually found two rare and principled men who agreed to take on their cases. Brave, determined and selfless, these women persevered in the face of the most tremendous obstacles, even while undergoing endless medical treatments.
Imagine having multiple cancers, suffering through repeated chemotherapy treatments and attempting to pursue your former employers in court at the same time. It is beyond my understanding how they were able to persevere.
We often call women the weaker sex. To those who say this, I invite them to read this book. Moore depicts these women as heroines and this is a fair portrayal. In their search for justice, their actions eventually brought about legal modifications that have protected workers to this day.
The author speaks plainly; it is painful to read and dreadful to imagine. This is not just a chronicle of their ailments, however. Moore brings these women to life, with details of their personal lives, their appearances, their habits and characters. The story is both horrifying and compelling in equal measure. I stand in awe of these women who, very simply, would not give up.