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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oak Ridge Revisited

I just finished the book, The Girls of Atomic City...the untold story of the women who helped win World War II. Written by Denise Kiernan, it tells the story of a secret city in the hills of Tennessee. Imagine that you are a young lady just out of high school or college, you are approached by official looking men asking you if you would be willing to work for the war effort. You would pack your belongings in a suitcase and get on a train, not knowing where you were going. Someone will tell you when you get to your destination. That was reality for the young women of the Clinton Engineering Works. When they arrived at Knoxville, Tennessee, they were driven to the "sticks". A place called Black Oak Ridge by the locals. They found a new town that was being built and while there were buildings, there were no sidewalks and mud was everywhere!!They lived in dorms, ate in cafeterias and did their jobs. The girls who worked in the massive plants had no idea what they were working on and they quickly found out that you were not to talk to ANYONE about what you did at work. Letters home were censored so many girls stopped writing their families all together.  If they wanted to go shopping, the ladies were transported on buses to Knoxville. However, the girls found out that Knoxville stores were not too friendly to CEW workers. These East Tennesseans resented the government coming in and taking land from the locals. Many people lost farms that had been in their families for generations. The government paid them for their land but it was not enough money to purchase a new farm in most cases. The government had also come calling via the TVA  and had taken home land to build big hydroelectric dams. Needless to say, some people were resentful. Oak Ridge quickly became a city of people from all over the United States.  One of the plants that enriched Uranium, K 25 was the biggest building in the world at that time.  Some people came there to work out of patriotism, others came to work there because it was the best pay in the area. Families still reeling from the depression were glad to make money to improve their lives. All was not great in Happy Valley as the workers called it...crowded living conditions, shortages of grocery products and the stress of living a secretive life took its toll on many employees. The government stepped in, setting up dances, bowling leagues etc to help the workers have some kind of life outside work.  When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, that was  when the workers found out what they had been working on all those years.  If you like history, you will enjoy this book. I was interested in it because I lived in Oak Ridge in the mid 70s. My husband went there to work at the X 10 plant...which became Oak Ridge National Lab. Marvin did work there for his PhD while I worked as a nurse in the Oak Ridge Methodist Hospital.  We actually lived in one of the quadraplexes that the government built for the workers in the 1940s. It was a modest little apartment...two small bedrooms, one bathroom, living room and eat in kitchen. But after reading about the dorm living the workers endured, I am sure that they were happy to get an apartment when one became available. We loved living in "the Ridge". Several years ago we were able to go back there and we found it had changed quite a bit from the town we knew. In fact we had a hard time finding our old apartment!! My hat is off to all the people who worked at CEW....they did bring an end to a war that had gone on so long.

1 comment:

Gina said...

Arlene, what an interesting book. I don't think I'd care to have that job. Yikes!