engineering careers  The dark story of America’s shining women

Kate Moores ‘Radium Girls’ tells the story of the young women employed as luminous watch-dial painters at the beginning of the 20th Century.
 
The craze for luminous watch-dials kicked off in the late 1910’s and high wages drew young women into the profession. The work was precise – a technique called lip-pointing saw women twirling camel-hair brushes to a fine point using their mouths.
 
The problem was the luminescent substance used to make the dials glow was radium. Exposure to it caused women to lose not only their teeth but parts of their jaw. The effects of this work were gruesome.
 
Moore’s book reads like a true-crime story. Moore traces the lives of more than a dozen women who did this work. She spares nothing of the emotional and physical suffering it caused and follows the story through to the 1938 trial of the Radium Dial Company
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While the book is long and sad; it highlights the remarkable stories of those involved. The Radium Dial Company case, ultimately, resulted in changes to the law and was ground-breaking for workers rights.
 
It is a tough read, but it is important to remember when science gets things wrong and the consequences that can have on real peoples lives.

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