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If I were to say Los Alamos or The Manhattan Project, most people would know what I was talking about. If I were to say Hanford, WA or Oakridge, TN fewer people would know what I was referring to. This website about Los Alamos, New Mexico mentions both places briefly. What it doesn’t tell you is neither town existed before the 1940’s. This book is the history of the town of Oak Ridge, TN. More specifically it is the story of the many young women who came to Oak Ridge to help win the war.
Ms. Kiernan gives a first hand account of the young women who came to live and work at the plants that the government was constructing in the newly formed city of Oakridge, TN. It was a secret project, the workers themselves didn’t know what they were working on. Everyone hired had to have a security check, the buildings were numbered, the substance they were working with was called Tubealloy or Product, their mail going out was censored and mail sent to them was returned to family members because the Post Office didn’t know where Oakridge was. All the workers knew was they were making more money than they could anyplace else and that their work “could end the war sooner”. For many of the young women, it meant seeing their loved ones sooner. For others it meant making a loved ones death mean something.
While colored or black or African American (whichever designation you prefer) workers were hired, the jobs they did and their living conditions were vastly different than what was provided for white workers. For many they were ‘used’ to discrimination, it was a fact of life in the south, and the wages were much better than elsewhere. For some it was more money than they had ever seen in their lives.
For many of the women, the job was something they wouldn’t have been able to get elsewhere given the fact that they were women.
Reading this book is like traveling back in time, learning about how life was in Tennessee and the US in the 40s. Women weren’t allowed in certain fields of work. People didn’t question the government and didn’t complain.
One thing Ms. Kiernan doesn’t cover is any current health problems for people exposed to the radioactive material. Apparently there were not the problems in Tennessee as were in other locations involved in the construction and testing of atomic weapons.
A very fascinating and informative book about a very interesting period of history.