Imagine living in a town that was built in the early 1940’s but didn’t appear on maps until the end of that decade. Imagine working for a “company” which was manufacturing something but you didn’t know what the product was. Imagine living in the surrounding area and seeing trainloads of something going into the hastily-built (and burgeoning) town only to never see anything transported out as product. Such was the case with the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, carved out of land nestled in the southern Appalachians.
It was part of a top-secret government project that would eventually help America win World War II, and specifically end Japan’s unrestrained aggression. The United States government was racing to harness the power of nuclear energy and build an atomic bomb, also known by its secretly coded name “The Gadget.”
The project, of course, needed the services of hundreds of scientists and technicians, but this book is the story of the young Southern women recruited to work in shifts turning knobs and monitoring output of an unknown product. Many saw it as an opportunity to make a good living, even if for a brief period of time, probably thinking they would return to whatever lives they had left behind. However, many met their mates and stayed for decades.
It was forbidden to talk about what they were doing (even if they didn’t know what they were doing). As it turns out, of course, they were enriching uranium, or Tubealloy as it was referred to. The pieces of the puzzle would fall into place, however, in early August of 1945 when the world awoke to hear about the bombing of Hiroshima and three days later the bombing of Nagasaki.
Author Denise Kiernan did an outstanding job of researching the history and the stories of those who lived and worked in secret. The story she tells includes the background of how scientists discovered the possible uses of nuclear fission, which eventually led to the Manhattan Project. She also interviewed ten women, their stories woven throughout the book.
I highly recommend The Girls of Atomic City for those interested in either World War Il, the Manhattan Project or women’s history.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.