Morning Book Break Book Discussion on
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
The book received ratings between a 4.0 and 5.0+. One member gave the book a 2.75. The average of the ratings was 4.59.
Many members have stated they are not nonfiction readers and with that in mind, they enjoyed this nonfiction read. The members felt this narrative nonfiction read was written in a very accessible way and they thought this could be required reading for high school students. The members applauded Kate Moore for bringing the personal stories of each radium girl to life. The members thought the author helped the reader to experience all the emotions of these young girls—from exuberant joy to deep sorrow and anger. Members are lifelong learners, so they really engage with writing that brings them new information. Many members could not put the book down; they were entranced. The members felt rage and anger at the corporate greed and legal dysfunction. Members were inspired by the strength of these women in the face of corporate giants. Members relayed other disasters where the disadvantaged get a raw deal; i.e. Flint, MI (lead in water), Chernobyl (nuclear disaster), St. Louis, MO (nuclear waste site),US tobacco companies: Phillip Morris,etc.
Many members made positive comments regarding the photos included in the book. Members found themselves looking at the photos while reading and thinking of the girls. In an interview, the author stated she posted the girls’ photos around the room while writing this book. Kate Moore said this: “Every time I talk about the women, I tell myself: do it for them. Make it good, communicate their story, because they deserve this. They do feel like friends to me. When my husband and I had a glass of prosecco after I typed THE END on my first draft, before either of us drank a drop we first turned to the wall on which their pictures were pinned and raised our glasses to them.”
“This is the memorial statue to the Radium Girls, which stands in Ottawa, Illinois. At Christmas time, locals drape the statue with a red homemade knitted scarf, to keep her warm in winter. The statue is dedicated not only to the Ottawa dial-painters, but also to ‘dial-painters who suffered all over the United States … in recognition of the tremendous perseverance, dedication and sense of justice the Radium Girls exhibited in their fight’. May they rest in peace.”
- The group traced the emotional trajectory of the Radium Girls—from their initial excitement about their jobs to the realization that their exposure to radium was killing them.
- Discussion about the horrible suffering the girls endured and their tenacity as they sought to find out what was causing their individual medical issues.
- Discussion about the persistent pursuit of the Radium Girls to get medical care and legal justice.
- Discussed the different responses between the United States Radium Corporation and the Radium Dial Company and whether or not they understood the hazards of radium. The group further discussed the reactions of the companies even after they realized that radium was proven poisonous.
- Discussion about modern companies who have behaved ruthlessly and how the Radium Girls’ story is still relevant today.
- Discussed why this story hasn’t been widely explored even though it takes 1,500 years for the effects of radium to wear off and parts of the towns in which the girls worked remains poisonous to this day. Members were shocked to learn clean-up was still taking place in 2015.
- The members discussed how the girls were inspirational and brave. Members praised the girls for the work they did to help future generations.
- Members discussed the gender issues contained within the non-fiction book. We discussed whether or not, considering the time period, did their gender help or hinder them?
- Radium has changed the world in positive ways, so has its uses been worth the sacrifice?
- Discussion of other discoveries which have led to tragedy.
- In an interview the author, Kate Moore stated: “And for me, what was compelling about the story was what these women suffered. And it was very much that they had done this remarkable thing, standing up against these incredibly powerful corporations, standing up against the face of their communities, battling for justice, even though they knew that they themselves were going to die. They didn’t lie down and take it quietly. They stood up and they fought for justice. And I just thought they were so extraordinary, and it was wrong that we don’t know their names and no one has ever traced their stories before—the individual tragedies that they feel. I think it’s really important to put a human face and a human experience behind the history that we see. Even the headlines we see today when we read about environmental damage or scandals. I think it’s only when you know that this was the person’s name, this is what their hopes were, that were then thwarted by what happened to them, this is how their families suffered. I think it’s only then that you can truly appreciate what the human tragedy is, and so that’s why I wanted to write it in the way I have done, because I want the women, the girls themselves, to be remembered.”
Members were asked whether or not author accomplished her purpose in writing Radium Girls. Overall, members felt that Kate Moore definitely did justice to the girls’ personal journeys. Members were impressed by her extensive research and attention to all the intimate details of each girl’s life.
Surprisingly, members were not confused by the sheer overwhelming number of girls portrayed in the nonfiction narrative. Facilitator wondered if a historical fiction novel with a compressed time-line and compressed characters would have had more wide appeal among the general public, thereby bringing the Radium Girls story to the attention of even more people. Several members hope this nonfiction narrative will be made into a movie, so that a wider audience can learn about the girls and have further exposure to the serious nature of environmental issues which can be dealt with for the good of all humanity.
Local bookstore owner Becky Anderson interviews Kate Moore.
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Killer Chemistry, a documentary which provides a fascinating look into early forensic science based on the non-fiction book: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. The Radium portion of the DVD is particular appropriate to the discussion of Radium Girls.
In the early twentieth century, the average American medicine cabinet was a would-be poisoner’s treasure chest. There was radioactive radium in health tonics, thallium in depilatory creams, and morphine in teething medicine and potassium cyanide in cleaning supplies. While the tools of the murderer’s trade multiplied as the pace of industrial innovation increased, the scientific knowledge (and the political will) to detect and prevent the crimes lagged behind.
Kate Moore discusses her book with Anne McTiernan at Seattle Town Hall
Kate Moore’s website: http://www.kate-moore.com/writing/4583697052
Website devoted to The Radium Girls (the website literally glows): http://www.theradiumgirls.com/