During the 1920s, radium was supposed to be a miracle element. The rich would put it in their water to make them healthier, and companies who made watches wanted women to paint it on the watch faces to make them glow. No one knew about the dangers of radium, and everyone wanted it. The girls who worked in the factories were so happy to have a job there, some dropping out of high school to work full time, and they were known around town due to their glow.
While in the factory, they were told to use their mouths to shape the small brush into a sharp point in order to better paint the radium onto the watch dial. Slowly, between the environment and the direct ingestion of the radium, the radium began to seep into the girls’ systems. Soon, many of the workers started to die suspiciously or become sick with abscesses in their mouths and jaws and deterioration of bones throughout their bodies. At first, the doctors claimed that the girls had a plethora of diseases, but soon they started tracking the diseases to the factory.
I have to say, reading this book shocked me. Many of the girls who worked in the factory were high school and college age, around the same age as me and my friends. They were drawn to work in the factories by the thought of making a decent salary at a fairly easy job. However, they did not know that working there was basically a death sentence due to the lip-pointing practice. Some of these girls would even paint the radium on their teeth and on their clothes so that they would shine as they attended parties. They were told that all of these things were completely safe, but it simply wasn’t.
The girls in this book die horrible, painful deaths. I could not imagine being in the pain that some of them were in, especially with the limited medicine of the 1930s. It was difficult to read, but it was absolutely necessary.
I believe that this story is also important because it discusses the greediness of the companies. Even when the companies were getting word of the radium possibly being poisonous, they refused to do their research, and simply moved their company out of the area so that none of the girls would hear about it. These young girls went for a job and were ruined for the rest of their lives, but the company refused to even acknowledge them for quite a number of years.
What people also don’t realize is that these same issues could affect people living in these areas today. Radium takes thousands of years to stop being radioactive, and this was simply 100 years ago. Even though the cities say that they did a cleanup, these girls went everywhere. They lived their normal lives, and the radium was on their clothes, in their bones, and on their shoes. Who knows if they have truly been cleaned up from the areas! How do you know if you cleaned up something properly if it is as thin as dust in the air? Simply putting it underground might not be enough, as it might start to seep up. Even the bones of these girls are still radioactive to this day, so are they willing to clean up graveyards? These are the questions that need to be answered, as the painful legacy of these girls could still live on to this day to the shoddy clean-up job.
I would recommend this book to anyone that wants to know more about American in the 1920s, prior to the Depression, with factories taking advantage of workers and people being duped into thinking that what was killing them was actually saving them.
Overall Rating: 6/5