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A physicist’s wife in peacetime and a physicist’s wife in wartime are, I have discovered, two very different things. In the years before our country was at war, this wife’s interests were identical with those of any other academic lady. . . . Even before the Pearl Harbor attack, however, the physicist’s routine had changed. Defense projects were started in college laboratories; armed guards began to pace the thresholds of physics buildings. One’s husband grew more secretive about his work, and one knew that his job must be important, for he was immune from the draft. The physicist’s wife realized that her husband, in wartime, was more than just a college professor— his was a key profession in the defense of his country. —Ruth Marshak, wife of Robert Marshak, deputy head of a theoretical physics group at Los Alamos, 1943–19461 The women on The Hill could not be termed temporary war widows like my sister-in-law in Phoenix, whose husband[,] Preston, was in the South Pacific. We could better be termed camp followers, attendants of the men who made the final assault on Japan. We occupied the sidelines of history and our role was not easy. It was up to us to see that our men were fed and loved and kept serene, so they could give their full attention to the Bomb, the still-winged ant queen who reigned in the Tech Area. We coped with our problems alone. —Eleanor Jette, wife of Eric Jette, group leader in the Metallurgy Division at Los Alamos, 1943–19452 For the past twenty months you have worked as an assistant in our research laboratory making microscopic measurements which called for a great deal of judgment on your part. This work was exceedingly tedious and involved a good deal of nervous strain. Nevertheless you have performed your duties in a cheerful and diligent manner, and it must be clear to you that you have made a real contribution to the success of the project. —Robert Oppenheimer to Lyda Speck, Los Alamos technician, 1943–453 in 1941 radiochemist elizabeth rona grew anxious as the russians and Nazis encroached on her native Hungary; like Lise Meitner and other scientists she had known intimately in Germany, she decided Those Science Made Invisible: Finding the Women of the Manhattan Project 4 130 131 it was time to flee. She received a visitor’s visa to the United States, and her loved ones saw her off. “Tell Roosevelt, or ask Einstein to ask Roosevelt, toget America toenter thewaragainst the Germans,” a friend told her. But it took time to be heard by an elite scientist in the United States, let alone to secure a job working with one. Her first stop was Columbia University, where Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, and other men with whom she had once worked were now settled in labs of their own. She brought greetings from associates abroad, yet most of these men behaved as though they didn’t have people or memories in common. Harold Urey later explained that the FBI was watching, since authorities feared she was a spy. Szilard finally took her to dinner to reminisce, but made sure that they met at a dimly lit Chinese restaurant, where it was too dark to be detected. Rona was jobless for three months before attending the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, where she met theoretical physicist Karl Herzfeld, who found her a teaching job at a women’s college in Washington, D.C. She was just getting to know her students when she got a call to do research—something to do with radioactivity, but no specifics could be conveyed over the phone. Her lack of working papers meant that the job would fall through, but soon after she received a cryptic telegram from the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester: they wanted her methods for extracting polonium. She guessed that the query was related to war work. Certainly, no one in the world was better than she at extracting the substance in large quantities , and apparently someone wanted to stockpile it. The next day a thin man came to the door to give her details. Find a student to help with the manual labor in the lab, he told her, preferably someone oblivious to the science involved in the extraction. Rona chose a woman majoring in French to assist her and proceeded with the highly confidential science. Suddenly her noncitizen status was...


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MARC Record
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