Oral Histories and Remembering Hanford

Storytelling is a powerful way in which communities preserve and share information between generations. Every week, I tune into National Public Radio to enjoy the storytelling on shows like This American Life, Snap Judgment, and StoryCorps. Personal narratives for me are the most engaging and impactful ways of learning about social issues, including Hanford.

Thanks to Voices of the Manhattan Project, a collaboration between the Atomic Heritage Foundation and the Los Alamos Historical Society, we have access to a number of amazing oral histories from individuals involved in and impacted by Hanford. The histories include those of high-ranking officials like General Leslie Groves, who directed the Manhattan Project. A number of scientists who played a significant role in the Manhattan Project were also interviewed.

For me, however, the most moving oral histories are those of workers and community members profoundly affected by Hanford. They are the voices underrepresented in discourse about the Manhattan Project, which so often centers on famous scientists and the weapons technology they developed.

Some particularly interesting stories include those of Margaret Hoffarth and Jane Jones Hutchins, who describe what it was like to be a young woman working at Hanford during production days. Hoffarth describes the atmosphere for single women workers at Hanford: “They had a big high fence around the women’s barracks, way way high, and at the top they had barbed wire. So the men couldn’t climb over, you couldn’t trust those guys.”

Another powerful interview is that of Willie Daniels, an African American worker who recounts the segregation of Hanford’s early days. Daniels arrived at Hanford in 1943 and worked in construction for a year before returning home to Texas.

I highly recommend exploring the database of Hanford oral histories at Voices of the Manhattan Project for fascinating stories of early Hanford days. I hope someday there will be a collection of oral histories from workers and community members focusing on the cleanup of the Hanford Site.

by: Emily Bays

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