Reviewed by Mary McKillop, Circulation Librarian
The Tuesday Readers meet on the first Tuesday of the month at 2:00 p.m. to discuss a book. Everyone is welcome to attend! The group will be discussing An American Marriage by Tayari Jones for the September meeting. Please click here for more information.
The Tuesday Readers group read The Radium Girls as their July selection. It is non-fiction and a fairly long book (477 pages including biography and index). Some sections can be disturbing. A few of the Readers were unable to finish the book because of some of the disturbing conditions described (the radium girls often had tooth and jaw problems). The discussion included the fact that in those times, factories were unregulated and so no need to protect their workers. The girls were “working class” girls and taught to be obedient. Their job often helped or supported their families. And it wasn’t unusual for a fourteen or fifteen year old to be working. The group agreed that such situations can and do occur even now.
The Radium Girls describes the first uses of the newly discovered “wonder” material, radium. Hundreds of girls worked with the element in factories painting glowing numbers on watches during the First World War. They put the brushes into their mouths to “point” the brush before painting the numbers. Having such a job was prestigious and well paying. And the young girls “glowed.” Then they began to come up with mysterious ailments and disabilities. The factories that they worked for denied any problems with being exposed to the radium and refused to help the girls.
“The Radium Girls” became one of the biggest scandals in America’s history and forced employers to protect their workers against the dangers of such chemicals. Even though the dangers of radium was known for years, the last radium watch-painting factory did not close until 1977.