The Girls of Atomic City
By Denise Kiernan
Do you remember the pictures and signs during the war, of Rosie the Riveter? Do you know who Rosie, the Riveter is?
My grandmother was one of those ladies at the factory, and in the navy yards in Boston. Like many she helped and contributed for the war effort. She made the planes in the navy yards in Boston. That is my story, but posted below is another forgotten story that was kept secret till after the war.
Before World War two, the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee didn't exist. But then a secret was going on in this no name town. Mostly women, of 75,000, were been recruited for this special work to help the war effort. No one had idea what the secret was except unless you were higher up in the government.
The girls had no idea what kind of work it was. All they knew was what they were doing at the moment. No one was to speak about anything among the four walls. If you know anything about the Manhattan project, and Oppenheimer, and Hiroshima Japan, you don't know everything. You will learn more about the project. I did my own research and found a interesting video from the history channel talking about Oak Ridge.
Most people think everything happened in New Mexico. Not true. It started actually in Chicago, then moved to New York City, then to Oak Ridge Tennessee, and then to New Mexico. Most women still to this day, if they had anything to do with this project. Don't have any idea what they contributed, and what they did for the war effort.
The true events happened during and at the end the war. and The race to build the first atomic bomb. These women were factory worker, chemists, engineers, etc. You have to realize the time when this happened. Women were not allowed to advance themselves to be chemists, engineers, doctor's etc. Most of the women during that time had to pick another field if they were well educated. But, during WW2, The war changed everything. Women were finally allowed to work out of their homes, wear pants, etc. The men were in Europe fighting the war. That left the women at the home front to work.
This project had so many different aspects to talk about, social emotional, religious, politics.There was segregation among the Afro- Americans. They could not sleep in the same hut. There were experiments being conducted on a few Afro-American. These kinds of experiments would not happen now in 2014. There were experiments that were conducted on a few black men for the sake of science. They introduced radiation in their system, No questions asked. The patients had no idea. Just like, Henrietta Lacks. They got away with it.
My favorite part of the book was the history of the start of the atomic bomb. How they split the atoms to make the atomic bomb, by the way a Jewish woman was involved. But even at the end she did not get recognition for it. The part that was intriguing was how these women learned what they did after the bombing of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and their reaction. How do you think you would feel about the secret?? Can you imagine the shock and disbelieve about Hiroshima. Some of them felt guilt, shame, others were happy, because it was the end of the war.
Some of them to this day still don't know what part they played in history. Can you imagine your supervisor telling you to do something, but you don't know rhym or reason. I would be fired off the spot. I know my self, I would want to know why. I would be asking my co-workers why. I would not make it too far. The women were suppose to not allow the counter to go up a certain point. There was a competition against the women, vs. the scientists, the women won.
The social aspect was interesting in the town. Many women and men got together. They had dances. The dating and the competition of the women to get a man. There was a woman so bored, she stole the pipes that were made, and turned it into a frying pan to make biscuits. She started a little business going on with out the higher ups knowing about it.
Some women's lives changed after the war when the men came back. They continued to work out side the home. But, many women decided they still liked taking care of their husband's and children. But, this did open up more opportunities for women. These women's lives changed for ever after the war.
But the biggest thing was how did these people kept a secret? You weren't allowed to share conversation even with your co workers. There were signs everywhere, Big brother is watching.
Now with the age of computers do you really think it would be kept, hush, hush. With Facebook and other social networks. I don't think so. I think it would have leaked out. Anyone would tell for the right price.
Below is the documentary of Oak Ridge Tennessee. I have part one of three posted. You can see the other two on youtube. It is worth seeing while reading the book.
A couple of the girls dressed up for the occasion as Rosie, the Riverter.
I recommend Girls of Atomic City if you are a history buff, and love to hear of women in strength. It is a great read for book club with great discussion. You won't believe what comes up after reading this. This is one of our best discussions we have had in a great while.