"The Girls of Atomic City," An Incredible True Story by Denise Kiernan

By: Judy Levin

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II/By: Denise Kiernan

Los Alamos, New Mexico is likely to be the first place that pops into our heads when we think “atomic bomb”.  But there is an important piece of the story that had mostly gone unreported until Denise Kiernan discovered, researched and wrote this book (available on Amazon) about the women who were an essential part of the development of the atomic bomb.  In the early 1940’s, Oak Ridge, Tennessee was nearly non-existent, just a rural area of small homes and farms, when the government took it over and built the enormous Clinton Engineering Works which eventually grew to a city of 75,000.

Kiernan focuses her story on the women who were employed by the thousands as secretaries, clerks, machine operators, lab workers, custodial staff and more. These women, mostly recent high school graduates from rural towns, took these jobs knowing little more than where to report for transportation to the site. What they did know was that they would have a job, incredibly important in those depression and war years.  Most significant to them all was their desire to do whatever was necessary to end the war.  Many of them had brothers, neighbors, and even sweethearts serving in the military overseas, and these young women felt it their patriotic and personal duty to help end the war and bring the boys home.  They asked few questions and required little information about where they were going and what they would be doing. 

Kiernan spent hours interviewing the women now in their upper 80’s and older about their lives at Oak Ridge during this time.   She found that without the dedication, faith and energy of these women, The Manhattan Project’s objectives of building the first atomic bomb might never have been achieved.

The stories of these remarkable yet ordinary women will inspire readers and also show what we already know – women and their work are often behind the scenes of our biggest and most important stories.  

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