Martin's Must Reads: 'The Atomic City Girls'

Aug 13, 2019

“The last time she’d come out this way was two years ago to move her grandfather out of his house. Since that afternoon, they’d heard lots of stories about what was happening in Bear Creek Valley. The army had built a city folks said. Mary had been working in Oak Ridge for almost a year and assured June there were plenty of good jobs for the taking. A tall fence topped with barbed wire ran along the road, and June could see buildings beyond it in the distance. A sign in front of the fence read MILITARY RESERVATION, NO TRESPASSING."

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are lines from the first two chapters of The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard.

The story revolves around the lives of several characters in 1944 who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at a military city which sprung up in a matter of months. June joins hundreds of other young women operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained, until June dates one of the physicists and learns that the whole city is working on developing the first atomic bomb.

The city was designed to keep the thousands of workers on site at all times, offering many forms of entertainment, twenty-four-hour cafeterias, and free housing and transportation. Interspersed throughout the book are photos of the actual site, the housing, the big machines the girls sat in front of. Segregation was a reality with shack housing,  lower pay and back breaking construction work for African Americans.

If you’ve ever wondered how the atomic bomb came to be then you must read The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard.