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About the Book



Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.



Synopsis:


The incredible true story of the women who fought America’s Undark danger.  The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

“This is one these books that will stay with you long after you finished reading it. The suffering, the indifference, the greed, the lies, the audacity... 90 years later it is still easy to imagine it happening over and over again."

 -Kasia Olm




DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

YOUR RESPONSE TO THE BOOK

What emotions did you go through when faced with the emotional trajectory of these women who worked with radium paint. Have you ever had a comparable experience with a job? Being excited to suddenly realize this job was not good for you?

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02 

What part of the story affected you the most? Why? Were you able to read every chapter or did you have to skim through the harder parts?

Whose behavior was the hardest to empathize with? Did any of the characters resonate with you?

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SIGN OF THE TIMES

 

04 

How was World War I influential in these women deciding to join the United States Radium Corporation (USRC)? Would you make the same choice?

Dial painters were paid three times more than the average factory worker. Would this impact your decision to accept a job like this, where you might get hurt?

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Knowing the unstable economic times might have influenced the women's decision to continue working despite health concerns, would you make those same decisions? What would you be willing to risk in order to support your loved ones?

Do you visualize this story playing out in modern times? How would online access to health and wellness information impact the decisions of the characters, the courts, and the companies involved?

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OSHA and other laws protecting workers against hazardous working conditions came about in face of the buzz created by the Radium Girls. Are you happy with how far we have come or do you have suggestions for improvements?

Radium companies were adamant about their position with no room for budging. Do you think modern companies would behave with similar ruthlessness today?

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DOUBLE STANDARDS

 

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What is your explanation for the fact that the men at the radium companies wore lead aprons and used tongs, versus the Radium Girls who put the pens coated with radium in their mouths and had no protection?

Do you think the double standard went too far? Doctors examined the women and declared they had no radium poisoning and that it was all in their minds. While they were also accusing them of hysteria?

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What could be a reasonable excuse for the company to wait to investigate the deaths until a male employee passed away? Why do you think they avoided doing autopsies on the women for the first three years?

Do you believe that the press, the communities, and the radium companies would have behaved the same way if the employees had been male? Did their gender help or hinder the court case?

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GOOD VS EVIL

 

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The dichotomy of good vs evil is very present in the book. Some encouraged and served their cause but the people that caused their illness were despicable to them. In what ways do the actions of one of the camps influence the responses of the other?

How would you react if a modern-day company was caught stealing victims' bones to cover up the effects of their job environment?

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None of the men from the companies went to prison for their actions. Would that have been a suitable punishment for their conduct?

Catherine Wolfe Donohue did what she could for the cause. Do you think you would have the strength to testify from your deathbed to further the case?

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THE LEGACY

 

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How would worker’s rights be without this court case? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) creation in the early 1970s was directly correlated to the Radium Girls. Do you think those are enough employee protections? Did it take too long to create these organizations?

About 14,000 Americans died yearly in workplace accidents before the lawsuit. Today, about 4,500 Americans die in workplace accidents. The Radium Girls were some of them. Were they a necessary part of America’s growth or do you think it could have been prevented?

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OTHER BOOKS TO CONSIDER

Pandemic
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The Great Influenza
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