The Manhattan Project

Jane Jones Hutchins's Interview

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Jane Jones Hutchins moved from small-town Kansas to Hanford to work as a secretary. She recalls social life at Hanford, a Christmas tree made of sagebrush, and an empty Hanford after the war.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
1986
Location of the Interview: 
Yakima
Collections: 
Transcript: 

[Interviewed by S. L. Sanger, from Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995]

Sis and I got on a bus in Coffeyville, Kansas, in August of '43 and we landed in Pasco. The bus depot was right in the center of this teeny-weeny little town and these weird-looking men were sitting around. She was 17 and I was 22, and how we had the guts to go any farther I don't know. We weren't recruited, we heard about these fabulous salaries they were paying out here. They said secretaries were making $60 a week. In Coffeyville, I was making $20. Sis was just out of high school and doing nothing. We started off, two dumb kids tired of living in Kansas.

We caught a bus from Pasco out to Hanford and went through employ­ment and both got jobs immediately. I went to work in the training relations department which handled the Sage Sentinel, which was the company newspaper, and also the library, the entertainment.

Sis went to work for Rob Johnson, he was the chief Du Pont photogra­pher. I was a secretary for the manager of training relations, and head cashier at the entertainment hall. There was entertainment every night of the week. I think Monday was boxing, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday were name bands. But something every night. The theory being, you had those termina­tion winds and people would quit by the thousands, something was needed to keep them. You were 70 miles from anything.

Those nights out there were wild and woolly, for a 22-year-old kid who had lived in Kansas all her life. They were an eye opener. Liquor was rationed but they always seemed to have it. The guys would pick up a can of Coke and go out to their car for a bottle. You drank it straight, and washed it down with Coke. Some of the bands were Henry King, Kay Kyser, and one not so well known, Tiny Hill. We also had Ted Weems and Jan Garber. They would play three nights and get paid off. Thousands would show up, at the auditorium, a huge building, which I recall was built in 10 days.

The women's barracks had a house mother. A lot of men were family men, and they weren't interested in what you would call dating. And if you did have a date there was no place to go except Yakima for dinner and that was 70 miles away. At the women's barracks, a guy would have to go in the gate, say who it was he wanted to see and the woman would be escorted down. At midnight or 1 o'clock, whenever the curfew was, they would scratch off names of men leaving the barracks, and if some names weren't scratched off, they would come looking for them.

I look back now and realize this was a free country but we were living behind barbed wire at Hanford, all to protect womanhood. I know that where women were concerned, Hanford could either make you or break you. Gals who had never had male attention before were, you know, popular. You could either become a slut, I suppose, if you wanted to, or you could become very strong, and be able to say "No."

The rooms were nice. Two beds, two dressers and four walls. The food was pretty good. No one starved. You ate all you wanted. When the bowl was empty, you held it up and it was refilled. Once, I did that in a Yakima restau­rant and I was so embarrassed. They served the biggest chicken legs at the messhalls I have ever seen.

Our first Christmas, in '43, was rough, being away from home. I remem­ber we planned a great big office party but there were no such things as Christmas trees, so some of us went out into the desert and got a big hunk of sagebrush.

We all got along pretty good. Maybe it was a different attitude. No inkling what we were doing, and I had no reason to be curious. I was busy with my job. I came from a little town. Believe it or not I had an inferiority complex, and at Hanford I knew the only way I could make friends was to be a friend myself. I came out of my shell.

When they dropped the bombs, that was an exciting time. I had never heard of such a thing as atomic power. Right after that, the war ended. Well, I fought the war at Hanford. It seemed as if we were doing our bit. It was a lark, it was exciting.

After they dropped the bombs and the war ended, I was out at the old Hanford Camp, it had closed in February, '45, with Colonel Matthias. We watched some half-wild goats walking in front of the movie theater. The colo­nel turned to me and said, "You know, Jane, this is like going to your mother's funeral. This was a living, breathing place with a personality." It was hard then, really hard, for anyone looking at that place, sagebrush and sand, a few goats, to visualize the 51,000 people who had lived there at the peak of it.