PHOTO: Rose Penta, daughter and niece to five of the Radium girls, talks with author Kate Moore.
HIGHLANDS - British author Kate Moore, who wrote the bestselling book, “The Radium Girls,” met for the first time with Rose Penta, daughter and niece to five of the women featured in the book, at what looked more like a joyous reunion between mother and daughter than a professional writer interviewing a nonagenarian who suffered through the loss of her relatives as told in the book.
The meeting took place at a hotel in Morristown Saturday night, where Moore, who was on tour in the United States after the release of ”The Radium Girls” in paperback, was staying while making a presentation at a Book Festival there. Also on her tour, which ended this week, were stops in New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Next month she will be back from her London home again, this time making stops in Illinois, Louisiana and Montana.
Penta, a long time and popular resident here and former owner of the Clearwater Pool and Swim Club, once a popular summer club on Route 36 in Middletown with her late husband, Luke, was thrilled to chat for several hours with the woman who told in graphic and heart rending detail the tragic stories of the dial-painters, the young women in the Orange, NJ and Ottawa, Ill areas who worked the assembly lines for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation of Newark, painting the dials on wrist watches. As part of their work, the women were instructed to lick the small paintbrushes to keep a point on the brush bristles for painting the miniscule numbers so they would glow in the dark. The radium which created the luminescence also created devastation and disfigurement to their bodies and eventually death. Rose’s relatives are among the women whose tragic stories of disfigurement and pain Moore told in her book after months of research, conversations, visits, and a personal sense of creating an accurate detailed account with the emphasis on the victims and their families.
But amid the pain of once again reliving what happened to her relatives and her mother’s death when Rose was 11 in the earlier part of the 20th century, there was laughter and conversations between Moore and Penta about everything from Rose’s family and health today to Moore’s background in writing books of many genre, as well as acting, directing, and traveling through half of the states in America.
The pair were joined by Rose’s half-brother, Peter Sorge who came from Delaware to hear Moore at the Book Festival and unite with his sister whom he hasn’t seen in months. The trio talked about the Maggia women, their appearance and illness after their employment at the radium firm, with the siblings sharing amusing stories about Aunt Mollie or Aunt Quinta or Aunt Clara. They laughed in describing the family house at 282 Second Avenue in Newark where Rose lived at one time, and Rose growing melancholy but grateful in talking about her fond upbringing by aunts after her mother’s death.
Moore gently guided Rose through details of her youth, laughing with her, softly rubbing her arm in comfort at the sad memories, joining in the shared knowledge that Rose easily recalled and Moore had previously written, but fascinated by new details she had not heard before. Moore praised Rose for the strength it took to authorize the exhumation of her mother’s body years after her death in order to promote more scientific information on the dangers and long life of radium. The author smiled broadly when she learned from the 91-year-old mother of four that she herself never suffered any side effects from living in a home with women so drastically impacted by the radium at a time no one knew anything about it. Rose gave some insight into how her relatives’ poison illness was treated when she recalled that at one time her aunt chided her for sharing a piece of toast with her mother for fear ”she would catch it..whatever it was.”
“No one knew what was causing all the problems my mother and my aunts were having,” Rose explained to the author who had researched every aspect of the at then unknown effects of radiation. She laughed heartily when Rose recounted how her mother loved to take her shopping in downtown Newark, “even walking around with her crutches,” since Rose’s mother had already lost a leg to the radiation poison.
Moore shared with her new-found friend how she wanted to meet her in person since she herself was so personally touched by the story of all the women who suffered from radiation poison but who got little or nothing in compensation in court actions some had brought against the company. Although her writing of the tragedy is now complete, she said she still wanted to meet Rose to share her sympathy and understanding of what the nonagenarian and her family endured so many years ago.
“I love each of these women,” Moore said, “I feel the horror they went through, and I feel I have come to know them through talking to their families and learning the warm, wonderful women they were. Their story needed to be told, and I am happy I was able to meet their families and tell their story as they knew it.”
The author, with typical British decorum and grace, declined to say which of the more than 25 states she has visited she likes the best, only smiling and explaining, “I have an affinity for New Jersey because of these women,” but noting she also has an affinity for Illinois where she other women affected by the same type of work are also included in the book.
But the author declined to talk about her next book, another investigative work, she confided, but declined to give any details “because it is simply too early and I am not going to talk about it now.” Her next book, she said, is also set in the United States, is also a true story and requires considerable research, but she declined to comment on either the area of the country it involves nor the time period.
After more conversation, considerable laughter and many hugs and kisses, the two women thanked each other for the opportunity to meet and vowed there would be another meeting some time in the future when Moore is back in the USA promoting another book, leading discussions or giving talks on the radium girls and their impact on her own life.
For more information on the author, visit her website at theradiumgirls.com