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Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project Paperback – April, 2003
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From Library Journal
As detailed in this book, many women worked on the Manhattan Project, from physicists and mathematicians at Los Alamos to public health specialists at Oak Ridge and Hanford to chemists at the Metallurgical Lab of the University of Chicago. Working from archival files at the various labs and universities and then pursuing leads developed through personal and telephone-based interviews, the authors, both physicists, have identified several hundred women affiliated in some way with the project. Valuable because so little has been written on this subject, this book is nevertheless frustrating because of its anecdotal nature. In many cases, the text jumps from person to person, simply presenting a sentence or two about each one as though that were all the files and investigation could produce. Still, the book is quite interesting in what it reveals, both particularly about the chauvinism of the project's male management and the na?vet? of professional and support staff regarding the harmful effects of nuclear materials. Recommended for academic history of science collections.AHilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., CA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"...this book contains much useful information about the lives and careers of the many women who worked in some way or another on the Manhattan Project. ...the research is sound and the book would be a valuable reference for a course on the WWII home front or twentieth century women's history."-The History Teacher "In the process of describing their backgrounds and experiences in nine chapters arranged by field (physicists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, technicians, and others), Howes and Herzenberg give us some interesting asides on life and practice at these outposts."-The Journal of American History "Painstakingly researched...this [book] provides a valuable beginning to the study of a previously neglected topic and contributes to our knowledge of the history of women in science."-Science Books and Films "Authors Howes and Herzenberg have done a remarkable job in synthesizing archived information on the women of the Manhattan Project and in bringing these women to life on the pages of their book."-AWIS Magazine "Quite interesting in what it reveals, both particularly about the chauvinism of the project's male management and the naivete of professional and support staff regarding the harmful effects of nuclear materials. Recommended for academic history of science collections."-Library Journal "I am thrilled to learn of so many of the remarkable women who contributed to innumerable aspects of [this] great enterprise. This book enables us to meet each other, to swap stories. The authors have done a superb job of detective work, tracking down an impressive number of them, more than 300. It is important to record and credit women's contributions to the social and technological history of the making of the bomb."-Ellen C. Weaver, Ph.D., Past President, Association for Women in Science "Of the many women who contributed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, I remember with pleasure most of the physicists who I knew quite well. It is nice to read about Los Alamos as a success story."-Dr. Edward Teller, Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution
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The first story is a cursory survey of the contributions made by women to the Manhattan project. An outsider might think that the focus of the book would be women in nuclear physics, but really the Manhattan project required physicists, engineers, chemists, mathematicians, technicians, and information specialists of every kind, and women made their contributions to the project at all levels and in all areas. If you are delighted to read about 17-year-old (!) female geeks discovering new chemical elements, you will be amazed to reflect that this was carried out in the 1920's and 1930's! Indeed the Manhattan project required a great many eccentric, highly-gifted, and highly-specialized people of both genders: A project so novel, at the cutting edge of science and technology, on an impossibly-tight schedule, cannot afford to overlook "the other 50% of Mankind". This brings us to the second story in the books, which too begins right from page 1:
The Manhattan project was not carried out in a social vacuum, and the urgency of the project only partially cut through the social prejudices of the era. The second story is about how society, even the supposedly enlightened scientific society, treats women who knock at its doors: Both in Europe and the US, females in the sciences were rare, and prejudices about them were commonplace. But there were considerably more women in the sciences in Europe than in the US, and prejudice in the US against women in science was such that even a Nobel Laureate in physics was denied recognition and honor in American universities. Women who completed PhD's could work as professors only in female-only institutions. Until the 1930's it was understood that female researchers in the sciences should be unmarried, as the household duties of a married female scientist would render her scientific work to the place of a hobby. Females were not permitted to devote their time to science: There was actually a law that prohibited women from working more than 40 hours per week. Female scientists received significantly lower pay for their work, and the general attitude was such that they should be grateful for being allowed to work at all.
In many instances, women were denied credit for their scientific accomplishments, and their names were not listed among the project members. The authors of this book had to excavate names and details of accomplishments by speaking to known past and present members of the scientific community, and reconstructing the information about who carried out what work.
Not all women worked in scientific areas. Some were spouses of scientists who were working in the Manhattan project, and the army, who directed the project, preferred to hire spouses to carry out any additional work needed. Some were [female] scientists who were not taken for work in their area of research, but given instead responsibilities that were both outside and below their area of expertise: teaching (at schools for the children of the families working with the project), secretarial, library & information management. Some of this bore surprising fruit: When a PhD in chemistry is given work as a librarian, and decides to use her spare time to compile various indexes of toxic chemicals used in chemical warfare, this is a useful contribution that could not have been expected from a professional librarian with no in-depth knowledge of chemistry.
This is not a book about science, and it's not even a book about the Manhattan project, in the sense that you will not get a full picture of the parts of the project and how they fit together. This is a book about women between the 1920's and 1950's: What it means for a female to have an interest in the sciences, how will she be received by her [often unwilling, if not condescending] peers, how will she be treated, how will her career progress, how [if it all] will she be recognized. The book is a humble reminder that the scientific community is only a tad bit more enlightened about matters of gender and equality than the rest of the population. The pressing need to complete the Manhattan project opened for women the doors to the halls of science and technology, but just enough for a few women to squeeze in, and not enough to prevent exploitation and sexism.
The authors indicate that the limitations on their research imposed by the availability of published documents or potential interviewees were responsible for their omissions. However, in preparing reviews of the technology developed at a variety of Manhattan Project sites, my working group found reasonable access to both people and written records. Also, epidemiological researchers who have evaluated clinical effects, mortality, and morbidity of Manhattan project staff have been able to contact significant portions of former workers. Recent epidemiological studies of �female� illnesses (e. g., breast cancer) make the omission of the bulk of the Manhattan Project�s female staff for reasons other than bias or intellectual laxness difficult to understand.
This book is especially valuable since this information has not been treated in any kind of systematic way in any previous historical accounts of the Manhatten project.