The Girls of Atomic City
The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians—many of them young women from small towns across the South—were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.
Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties—The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country’s history.
Denise Kiernan on THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY
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Read an Excerpt
There have long been secrets buried deep in the southern Appalachians, covered in layers of shale and coal, lying beneath the ancient hills of the Cumberlands, and lurking in the shadow of the Smokies at the tail end of the mountainous spine that ripples down the East Coast. This land of the Cherokee gave way to treaties and settlers and land grants. Newcomers traversed the Cumberland Gap... see more
Reading Group Guide
Introduction The Girls of Atomic City tells the true story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a secret city founded during World War II to help create fuel for the atomic bomb. Oak Ridge didn’t appear on any maps, but thousands of workers moved there during the war, enticed by good wages and war-ending work. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but the workers – many of them young, single and female – were excited to be “all in the same boat,” buoyed by a sense of shared purpose. But these hardworking young women also faced unexpected challenges. One young woman, Helen, was recruited to spy on her fellow workers. An African-American janitor, Kattie, faced daily discrimination and separation from her children in segregated Oak Ridge. Toni, a secretary, was mocked by her Northern bosses for her Tennessee accent. Dot, a factory operator, had lost a brother at Pearl Harbor and had two others still away fighting. Through it all, day in and day out, nobody knew what they were working on, only see more