Our book last night was Radium Girls: the dark story of America’s shining women by Kate Moore. When radium was discovered, it was considered something of a wonder drug with the ability to cure tumors and, if ingested in minute quantities, create a healthful glow. It also had industrial uses, the most important being to create luminescent numbers and letters on watch and clock dial faces and on the dial faces of aircraft and automobiles. The workers who did the painting were almost exclusively women who were taught the technique of “lip-pointing.” The women would dip their brushes into a radium solution prepared by their male managers and then create a sharp tip by twirling the brush between their lips. In addition, since the employment was based on piece work, they were encouraged to keep working at their tables even during meal breaks, thus ingesting more radium. The pay was lucrative and the employed women felt lucky to have the jobs and even enjoyed that their clothing glowed in the dark when they made their ways home. All was well until some women began to suffer mysterious pains in their mouths and began to lose teeth as well as part of their jaws. Many developed hideous tumors on their extremities and more than a few died. Lawsuits began between the United States Radium Corporation and the women. The issue was radium poisoning, the company claiming it was safe and the women and their lawyers contending it was lethal. Our conversation centered on the relationship of employers and employees and who, ultimately, is responsible for worker safety, then and now. Our own experiences played a major role in the conversation.
Our next meeting will be on September 27, 2018. The book to be discussed, Hue 1968: a turning point of the American war in Vietnam by Mark Bowden, is available at the Circulation Desk. All are welcome.