Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

Kiernan chronicles the lives and events of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II. The government pushed residents out of their homes and took over their land in order to set up a place known as Clinton Engineering Works (CEW). Thousands of people, especially women who's loved ones were sent off to fight in the War, were hired from all over to work in the factories at CEW.

No one told them what they were actually doing; they were just told that their duties will bring a speedy end to the war. There was a strict policy of not talking about what you are doing to anyone and do not ask any questions, or you might find yourself without a job. Little did they know, they were actually separating tubealloy in order to create an atomic bomb, which is what blew up Hiroshima and ultimately ended the War with Japan. The government was able to keep the secret by compartmentalizing duties and only telling employees what they needed to know to do the job, nothing more.

Some of the names who's individual stories are told include Celia Szapka, a secretary who transferred from the Project's NYC offices; Kattie Strickland, an African American janitor who had to face segregation at CEW and worked to send money home to her family in Alabama; and Colleen Rowan, who was recruited to "spy" on her coworkers and report back on anyone she discovered talking too much.

CEW workers were invested in wining the war and bringing their men home. They could also be considered the unsung heroes of the WWII. Kiernan also brings forth the inequity of women during this time. I am not much of a nonfiction reader, but the intrigue of this real life event kept me reading. Anyone interested in WWII will find this to be a fascinating and accessible read, even the science parts about atoms.

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