This is a heartbreaking story of corporate greed and indifference to the suffering of workers, all young women, all employed to paint the dials of timepieces with radium. They considered themselves lucky to have the jobs. It was clean, well-paying work alongside other women who enjoyed each other’s company. They had the opportunity to work with the new substance, radium, which they were told had health-giving properties, as well as the fun ability to make them glow in the dark. Then they started getting mysterious illnesses and dying. At first they couldn’t believe that their exposure to radium was making them sick. By the time they made the connection, it was too late. They asked a reasonable compensation from the company for their suffering. The company refused and fought back with a campaign of denial and misdirection, hiring high-priced lawyers to delay, hide their knowledge and outright lie. Their hope was that the women would all die before being able to substantiate their claim.
They failed. As this book points out, it was not just the pitiful compensation that the women won that had lasting results. Most of them died before they collected much. It was the changes in the laws governing working conditions that had the most impact. Because of their action, the suffering of other workers dealing with radioactive substances, particularly in the Manhattan project was prevented.
Thank you Netgalley for the advance reader’s copy.