By Tabitha Barr
Opinion Page Editor
Many have heard of the Manhattan Project and the people leading the efforts along the way, but many neglect to hear the story from a perspective that was right in the middle of it, but absolutely clueless to what was really happening.
Most people would move on and find other sources that have information of the events, but Denise Kiernan, who was in Hutchinson on Tuesday to speak in the Dillon Lecture Series, saw opportunity and grasped onto it before it was gone.
For the author of “The Girls of Atomic City”, it all began with a textbook picture that showed a group of women working on behind-the-scenes of the nuclear project. The cutline beneath then told of how they wouldn’t know the true meaning of what they were doing until a long time later in life. This immediately sparked something in Kiernan as she began to dig deeper into the stories of those who helped during the World War II efforts without knowing exactly how.
“This is about complete history.”
By seeing and understanding all of the perspectives and memories from everyone, people can gather all of the information together and comprehend how crazy this project was.
Some of these stories came from people who had lived on Earth for over 100 years. Kiernan didn’t realize her timing on her research of this topic until later in life when the people she interviewed were getting too old.
When she started talking to the women who changed history, all of them repeated a line to her that she still thinks is crazy to this day. Before doing the interviews, the women would ask, “Are you sure you want to talk to me? I didn’t know anything.”
By interviewing these fascinating women, Kiernan learned of many stories including their arrival to Oak Ridge, Tenn., the specific jobs they had to work, the ways of how they were kept in the dark about what was really happening, and the obstacles that some faced due to the color of their skin.
By interviewing the women who lived through this, she found many situations to be suspicious in today’s standards. Many were told of the idea of the job and that they would have to move, but nothing more was given to them. There was security and government papers they had to sign to keep everything disclosed. They may not have known what was happening behind closed doors, but most knew it wasn’t simple tasks being handled, but something much bigger. No one understood the gravity of the situation and conditions that they were working under until much later in life.
Most of them went along with the secret conditions because of two reasons. The first is that they knew someone in their family or friends that was off fighting in the war and they wanted them back home as soon as possible. And the other is that the pay of this job was much greater than their other one.
After the war was over, many didn’t know what was to come of themselves or the town they had come to know as their home. But fortunately, the town of Oak Ridge kept thriving and still exists. It holds the many stories of the women who worked hard at what they did, even though they had no idea what the reason was for it.
The stories that Kiernan was able to tell came from very unlikely positions. None of those women were head of situations that happened but each had an important story to tell.
“Listen to people, and not those who are just most important,” Kiernan said.
Stories come from the most unlikeliest places that no one had ever thought to look there before. “The Girls of Atomic City” is one of those stories that hits the reader by appealing to the search for the unknown.
It’s a powerful story that follows some very powerful women.