Radium Girls by Cy.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Out: April 6, 2022
This is a graphic novel that tells the same story [based on actual events] as the similarly titled, but otherwise unrelated, popular book by Kate Moore. The “Radium Girls” were women who worked at watch factories, painting luminescent numbers on watch dials. Unfortunately, the luminescent material being used was radioactive, and the painting process that these women were taught involved touching paintbrushes to their lips between strokes, causing them to ingest minute amounts of it everyday, often over many years. In today’s world, a person who found themselves glowing in the dark from a job (without protective equipment) would know something was radically wrong, but this took place about a century ago and understanding of radioactivity was much less – though scientists clearly understood that precautions needed to be taken when working with radium.
This book captures the highs and lows of a small group of workers from one of the watch / clock factories involved, the one in Orange, New Jersey. Ultimately, this is a sad story of deteriorating health and premature death, but it also shows a relatively new phenomena of women holding jobs that allowed them to increase control their own destinies. By showing the women as they tasted the good life, the experience of the bottom falling out created a more visceral experience. The women did earn a good wage — not the kind of money that makes cancer worthwhile, but higher pay than the usual salary available to women of the day.
I thought the story was well told and touching. The art was in an interesting style – sure to be the cup of tea of some but not others – but nevertheless clearly conveying events of the story. I’d recommend this graphic novel for readers interested in the subject.
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