Excerpt from The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Radium Girls

The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore X
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2017, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2018, 480 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Excerpt
The Radium Girls

The girls may have been sociable, but they still had a job to do, and if they didn’t knuckle down and do it, they were out. It could be tough. As Katherine Schaub had observed in Newark, the girls were under a lot of pressure. If a worker failed to keep up, she was criticized; if she fell short repeatedly, she eventually lost her job. The only time the girls really saw Mr. Savoy, whose office was downstairs, was when he came to scold them.

The biggest issue was the wasting of the paint. Each day, Miss Rooney issued a set amount of powder to the girls for completing a particular number of dials—and they had to make it last. They could not ask for more, but neither could they eke it out; if the numerals were not sufficiently covered by the material, it would show up during inspection. The girls took to helping each other out, sharing material if one found she had a little extra left over. And there were also their water dishes, filled with the radium sediment. Those, too, could be a source of extra material.

But the cloudy water hadn’t gone unnoticed by the company bosses. Before too long, the crucibles for cleaning the brushes were removed with the explanation that too much valuable material was wasted in the water. Now the girls had no choice but to lip-point, as there was no other way to clean off the radium that hardened on the brush. As Edna Bolz observed, “Without so doing it would have been impossible to have done much work.”

The girls themselves were also targeted in the drive to limit waste. When a shift was over and they were about to leave for home, they were summoned to the darkroom to be brushed off: the “sparkling particles” were then swept from the floor into a dustpan for use the next day.

But no amount of brushing could get rid of all the dust. The girls were covered in it: their “hands, arms, necks, the dresses, the underclothes, even the corsets of the dial-painters were luminous.” Edna Bolz remembered that even after the brushing down, “When I would go home at night, my clothing would shine in the dark.” She added, “You could see where I was—my hair, my face.” The girls shone “like the watches did in the darkroom,” as though they themselves were timepieces, counting down the seconds as they passed. They glowed like ghosts as they walked home through the streets of Orange.

They were unmissable. Unassailable. The residents of the town noticed not just the wraithlike shine but also the expensive, glamorous clothes, for the girls dressed in silks and furs, “more like matinee idlers than factory workers,” a perk of their high wages.

Despite the attractions of the job, however, it wasn’t for everyone. Some found the paint made them sick; one woman got sores on her mouth after just a month of working there. Though the girls all lip-pointed, they did so at different intervals, which perhaps accounted for the varying reactions. Grace Fryer found that “I could do about two numbers before the brush dried,” whereas Edna Bolz lip-pointed on every number, sometimes even two or three times per number. Quinta Maggia did the same, even though she hated the taste: “I remember chewing [the paint]—gritty—it got between my teeth. I remember it distinctly.”

Katherine Schaub was one of the more infrequent pointers; only four or five times per watch would she slip the brush between her lips. Nonetheless, when she suddenly broke out in pimples—which could have been due to her hormones, for she was still only fifteen—she was perhaps mindful of some of her colleagues’ adverse reactions, as she decided to consult a doctor.

To her concern, he asked her if she worked with phosphorus. This was a well-known industrial poison in Newark, and it was a logical suspicion—but it made Katherine feel anything but logical and calm. For it wasn’t only her acne that caused the doctor concern: there were changes, he noted, in Katherine’s blood. Was she sure she didn’t work with phosphorus?

  • 1
  • 2

Excerpted from The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. Copyright © 2017 by Kate Moore. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
    by Ocean Vuong
    On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the bold and bracing debut novel by acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, ...
  • Book Jacket: Daisy Jones & The Six
    Daisy Jones & The Six
    by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    In this evocative novel written in the format of an interview with members of a fictional music ...
  • Book Jacket: The Age of Living Machines
    The Age of Living Machines
    by Susan Hockfield
    In the face of looming global challenges, such as overpopulation, resource depletion and disease, Dr...
  • Book Jacket
    The Mars Room
    by Rachel Kushner
    There is palpable tension between expectation and reality in Rachel Kushner's third novel. The ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Travelers
    by Helon Habila

    A startlingly exploration of the African diaspora in Europe, by an acclaimed international writer.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    More News Tomorrow
    by Susan Richards Shreve

    An irresistible portrait of a family drawn together in search of truth.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Guest Book

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense."
—Entertainment Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

M I Haste, R A L

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.