The best books about Radium Girls

Why am I passionate about this?

When I decided to write about Catherine Donohue, I searched for everything I could find about her, which was surprisingly little. I traveled to Ottawa, Illinois to read her letters held at a local historical society, and I connected with the son of her attorney, who has kindly uploaded his father’s old newspaper clippings onto the internet. The story of America’s Radium Girls is a tragic warning about where greed and corruption can lead, but it is also a story about courage, faith, and perseverance. It is a privilege to be a part of increasing awareness of their fate. After all, HERstory is history, too.


I wrote...

Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl

By Samantha Wilcoxson,

Book cover of Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl

What is my book about?

A young woman's life is set on an unexpected course when she accepts a job at Radium Dial. She soon finds out that the excellent pay is no recompense for the dark secret that lurks in the paint that magically makes her glow in the dark. This is the story of brave Catherine Donohoe who took on the might of a big corporation and became an early pioneer of social justice in the era between two world wars. Emotive and inspiring - this book will touch you like no other.

It’s too late for me, but maybe it will help some of the others. ~ Catherine Wolfe Donohue 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women

Samantha Wilcoxson Why did I love this book?

This book first introduced me to the Radium Girls and their tragic story. I was captivated by what happened to these working-class women in the 1920s & 30s, especially Catherine Wolfe Donohue. I felt such a connection to Catherine through Moore’s book that I decided to write a novel about her. It’s nonfiction that engages the reader like a novel and will make you wonder how events like this are allowed to happen. 

By Kate Moore,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Radium Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club choice
New York Times bestseller

'Fascinating.' Sunday Times
'Thrilling.' Mail on Sunday

All they wanted was the chance to shine.

Be careful what you wish for...

'The first thing we asked was, "Does this stuff hurt you?" And they said, "No." The company said that it wasn't dangerous, that we didn't need to be afraid.'

As the First World War spread across the world, young American women flocked to work in factories, painting clocks, watches and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and…


Book cover of Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935

Samantha Wilcoxson Why did I love this book?

Once I decided to write about America’s Radium Girls, this book provided the scientific background and legal progression of the radium industry. It helped me understand how the tragedy began innocently with scientists believing radium improved health. Yet, when they realized the ill effects, it was difficult to convince big businesses to let go of the profits they were earning. This is a more academic read but is very informative for those who want to dig deeper.

By Claudia Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Radium Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early twentieth century, a group of women workers hired to apply luminous paint to watch faces and instrument dials found themselves among the first victims of radium poisoning. Claudia Clark's book tells the compelling story of these women, who at first had no idea that the tedious task of dialpainting was any different from the other factory jobs available to them. But after repeated exposure to the radium-laced paint, they began to develop mysterious, often fatal illnesses that they traced to conditions in the workplace. Their fight to have their symptoms recognized as an industrial disease represents an…


Book cover of Deadly Glow: The Radium Dial Worker Tragedy

Samantha Wilcoxson Why did I love this book?

This book also digs deeper into the science behind radium, the realization that radium poisoning was occurring, and how it impacted the scientific community. Radium poisoning was difficult to discover and diagnose for many reasons, beginning with the initial belief that radium improved one’s health. Once symptoms began to occur in women using radium on a daily basis, their health problems were varied and inconsistent. This book also discusses how the study of radium improved health standards for handling other radioactive substances.

By Ross Mullner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deadly Glow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Deadly Glow is the important story of a public health tragedy. It chronicles the lives of young women who worked in radium application plants in the early 1900s painting numerals on instrument and watch dials. From their experience, the harmful effects of radium deposited in the body became known.

The victims suffered from skin ulcerations, tumors and other severe medical symptoms. Physicians were baffled and misdiagnosed their conditions as heart disease and even syphilis. Solving the intriguing mystery of the workers' disabling, yet unknown, disease would be a complex and difficult task requiring brilliant detective work of several investigators. In…


Book cover of Marking Time: The Radium Girls of Ottawa

Samantha Wilcoxson Why did I love this book?

A short, locally published selection, this book specifically tells the story of the women of Ottawa, Illinois, who worked at Radium Dial and Luminous Processes. It includes useful local insight and many photos. At 70 pages, the reader can get a great summary of the events without committing to a long non-fiction read.

By Heinz Dietrich Suppan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marking Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Doomed Legions of Ottawa. . .At the turn of the 20th Century radium became a miracle cure for almost any ailment and was advertised in several European nations. When radium was introduced into the United States it achieved a similar popularity. After World War I several companies decided to use radium to paint watch dials, a fad that resulted in the manufacture of luminous dials, and successful sales of wrist watches, pocket watches and alarm clocks. When a luminous dial processing company opened in Ottawa, Illinois, it offered great employment opportunities to many young girls who were paid very…


Book cover of Glow

Samantha Wilcoxson Why did I love this book?

When I decided I wanted to read more and write about the Radium Girls, this was the only novel I could find featuring them. It is an accessible, young adult novel with a dual timeline. A contemporary young woman discovers a painting at a thrift shop that reveals glow-in-the-dark elements. The story of a fictional early dial painter is told alongside the struggle of the main protagonist in today’s world.

By Megan E. Bryant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Glow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 11, 12, 13, and 14.

What is this book about?

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2017 Selection

Lydia is thrilled to join the working girls in the factory, where they paint luminous watch dials for the soldiers fighting in World War I. In the future, these girls will be known as the tragic Radium Girls: factory workers not only poisoned by the glowing paint, but who also had to fight against men who knew of the paint's deadly effect. One hundred years later, Julie, whose life is on hold after high school, becomes intrigued by a series of mysterious antique paintings she finds in a thrift store. When she discovers…


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Aggressor

By FX Holden,

Book cover of Aggressor

FX Holden Author Of Aggressor

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a former journalist and intelligence officer turned writer, so I seek out authenticity in my reading, especially when it comes to war stories. I look for fiction from people who have been there or know how to listen to those who have, and be their voice. When I write, I always put together a team of veterans and specialists in their fields to challenge my work and make sure I get it right, too!

FX's book list on war stories you probably haven’t read yet

What is my book about?

It is April 1st, 2038. Day 60 of China's blockade of the rebel island of Taiwan. The US government has agreed to provide Taiwan with a weapons system so advanced, it can disrupt the balance of power in the region. But what pilot would be crazy enough to run the Chinese blockade to deliver it?

Aggressor is the first novel in a gripping action series about a future war in the Pacific, seen through the eyes of soldiers, sailors, civilians, and aviators on all sides. Featuring technologies that are on the drawing board today and could be fielded in the near future, Aggressor is the page-turning military technothriller you have been waiting for!

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