The Women Behind the Bomb

During the early 1940s, 70,000 people worked at the secret faciiity in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, doing the work of the Manhattan Project that would lead to the first atomic bomb. Most of the workers were women, recruited as civil servants to aid the war effort. And they didn't know anything about the job they were doing until they started doing it.

The civil servant was given only one clue where she would be going: a train ticket to Knoxville, Tennessee. She packed her best clothes, wore a new pair of shoes, and gave herself entirely to the project at hand: don’t ask questions, don’t talk unnecessarily, do your part to win the war. She arrived at a place that was more of a camp than a town, half-built prefabricated houses, an administration center, three reactors, and a foot of mud sure to suck off any shoe that stepped in it. On the books, she had arrived at the Clinton Engineer Works, a refinery plant for “Tubealloy.” Off the books, she had arrived at Site X of the Manhattan Project, where uranium would be enriched before it was shipped to Site Y in Los Alamos for use in “The Gadget.”

Brain Pickings bring us excerpts from the book The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan, with pictures of Oak Ridge during the war. Link

(Image credit: Ed Westcott courtesy American Museum of Science and Energy, Oak Ridge)


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