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Atomic Bombs, Winning the War and Women in Pants: Voices of the Manhattan Project Speak of the Nation’s History

November 28, 2012 - 12:00pm

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Manhattan Project veteran Ralph Gates (far right) celebrates Christmas in 1945. Gates contributed to the Voices of the Manhattan Project, a storytelling project launched by the Atomic Heritage Foundation and Los Alamos Historical Society.

Manhattan Project veteran Ralph Gates (far right) celebrates Christmas in 1945. Gates contributed to the Voices of the Manhattan Project, a storytelling project launched by the Atomic Heritage Foundation and Los Alamos Historical Society.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A year out of high school in 1944, Nashville native Colleen Black joined the Manhattan Project at the Oak Ridge site in Tennessee. Her parents and other family members were also working on the secretive project to help the war effort.

A former leak test operator, Black was one of many young women who adapted to wearing pants, climbing around pipes and training to operate things like mass spectrometers. She is just one of the many people to tell her piece of history for the Voices of the Manhattan Project.

This storytelling initiative is spearheaded by the Atomic Heritage Foundation and Los Alamos Historical Society. It captures the experiences of Manhattan Project workers, their families and people who lived in the area of sites like Oak Ridge, Hanford and Los Alamos. These oral histories weave tales about espionage, women in science, diversity and debates about using atomic bombs.

EM’s mission is to complete the safe cleanup of nuclear waste, materials and facilities generated by the Manhattan Project and Cold War. Congress is considering legislation that would incorporate the historic Manhattan Project sites into the national park system.

Below are a few of the dozens of volunteers who have so far contributed oral histories to Voices of the Manhattan Project. Listen to their histories in detail at the project's website.

 

In 1950, Paul Vinther arrived in Hanford, where he worked as a physicist and reactor operator. In his oral history for the project, Vinther discusses, among other things, many of the safety measures put in place to protect workers.

 

Veronica Taylor is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and grew up along the Columbia River near the Manhattan Project site at Hanford. In her oral history, Taylor discusses unique aspects of Nez Perce life and describes some of the customs practiced by the Tribe. Taylor describes some of the programs designed to help future generations rediscover some of the land and cultural traditions that were lost as a result of the Manhattan Project.

 

Donald Trauger became involved in the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, where he worked on the gaseous diffusion process. In his interview, Trauger discusses the science of isotope separation, among other topics.

 

 

 

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