Theresa Strottman: It’s Saturday, February 15, 1992, approximately 11:28 AM. We’re interviewing Kay Manley. We really appreciate your coming here today. Briefly tell me when and where you were born and something about your education and training.
Kay Manley: I’m a Canadian by birth. I was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which is a little hard for some people to locate, but it’s one of the so-called Maritime Provinces, almost straight north of Maine. I came to the United States in 1933 to study and work at Columbia, New York. I don’t know whether that fully answers your question or not.
Strottman: What education did you receive?
Manley: Oh yes, I graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and I spent an extra year for graduate work at the University of Toronto. And then I taught for a couple of years before I went to New York. So I had a rather, shall we say, diversified education, in parts of the country.
Strottman: What was your degree in?
Manley: My degree at, my undergraduate work was in English and mathematics.
Strottman: Tell me how you came to Los Alamos.
Manley: I came to Los Alamos because my husband was coming, and he was already here as a matter of fact. We had been with the Manhattan district in Chicago for a year, a little over a year, before we came here. But of course, that year was all directed toward the establishment of the situation here at Los Alamos, especially for the development of a weapon. The Manhattan district, of course, had various branches in a lot of different places. But when they found out that fission was possible, in Chicago, then immediately, it was necessary to make plans to move that whole project someplace else that was away from a large, well-populated suburb and also was easy to protect. And that’s when Los Alamos was picked.
My husband had been doing a great deal of traveling in the year that we were in Chicago because he was looking after a group of projects, which had been farmed out, as it were, to various universities. And so, he was traveling around supervising those a great deal. But when the establishment was decided for Los Alamos, then he used it as headquarters, and he came in April.
I didn’t come until the end of June. This was 1943. Because my younger daughter was just eight weeks old when I came. I decided to stay in Chicago for her birth, and so that meant that my husband was not only traveling to universities, but he also made a couple of trips to Chicago to see that we, myself and my daughters, were getting along alright. And we did. We got along very well. I was brought to the train, the Santa Fe Chief was our main means of transportation, and people who were still in Chicago with the Manhattan Project took us to the train and saw us established when we were coming out. And of course, we were met at Lamy by my husband and some other friends, and it was a very easy trip, really.
Strottman: You have two daughters?
Manley: I have two daughters.
Strottman: When you left Chicago, what did you tell your family and friends about where you were going?
Manley: I didn’t know anyone in Chicago, except people who were acquainted with the project. And so, it was not necessary to tell anyone where I was going. My family, of course, my parents and one or two brothers and sisters of mine were in Vancouver. And so I told them that we were going to relocate and gave them my address. I said I can’t tell you any more than that. Of course, they were very understanding and patient and realized that that was the situation.
Strottman: What did your husband do here?
Manley: My husband was a scientist. He worked for the Laboratory, of course. His work, of course, was all classified. And so, I of course, didn’t know what he was doing at all and asked no questions. Since I knew that the wives were not supposed to be told. They were very, very careful about secrecy, very careful. And that was one way that they wanted to insure that there would be no leakage if possible.
Strottman: Did you work while you were here?
Manley: I worked for a while in the, of course, they were encouraging all the wives to work who could possibly work. And if we had good maids, which we did have some very good maids, who were brought up from the valley by bus every day. And if you could find a good maid to look after your children, it was possible to work. So I worked in one of the statistician’s groups doing calculating on one of those big old Marchant machines, which you probably have no idea every existed. But they were the forerunners of the computing, whole computing idea. They were big, they were clumsy, they were slow, and they made a tremendous amount of clatter. And of course, also, they were always breaking down. But we did a tremendous number of calculations on them. And of course, the calculations were very involved, some of them running to 10 and 12 figures. So that it meant you had to be very careful about punching the right figures and so on.
But several of the wives worked there for quite some time, just in order to help with the personnel problem, which for a while, well, always, it was acute. But at the beginning, it was quite acute, because they didn’t want to have to house any more people than was absolutely necessary. They were hoping to keep it down to a very few, but it kept growing and growing, especially as they found they couldn’t farm out a lot of jobs to other organizations. They had hoped that they would get some help from the naval ordnance people when they realized how they were going to make the bomb. I found all this out afterwards. And it’s well known now. But the naval people couldn’t help them. So they had to bring in a whole lot more personnel here in order to do that job, which of course made another acute problem as far as the housing was concerned.
Strottman: When you said you worked doing calculations, do you remember some of the other women that you worked with, the names of some of them?
Manley: Oh yes, I remember one or two very clearly. Let’s see, Jean Bacher, Bob Bacher’s wife, worked. She and I were in the same room. Bea Langer, L-a-n-g-e-r, Bea is her first name. Her husband was also a scientist. And I remember those two, especially. I don’t remember anyone else particularly right now. But I think there were maybe five or six wives all told. One or two people who were supervising this sort of thing were from California. They were not especially into the science end of things at all. They just were computing people. And they took charge of the whole computing problem. I can’t even remember their names, sorry.
Strottman: Did you have any idea at all what you were doing it for, these calculations?
Manley: I knew it was connected with the war and that it would, if possible, to make it work, it would end the war quickly, probably end the war quickly. That was as far as my knowledge went. I knew there was a great deal of mathematics involved, tremendous amount of mathematics involved. A good deal of my own particular calculating problems were done for Serber, Bob Serber, who was a very well known theoretical person, who was there at Los Alamos. So it was obvious, you know, I knew he was a mathematics physicist, he was very theoretical and that his strong point would be the mathematics, the end of the problem. So that I knew that much. But the mathematics and the physics were both very much involved in the problem . But that’s as far as I went, and I didn’t ask any questions.
Strottman: How long did you work at that job?
Manley: I worked at that as long as I had a good maid. That was, I guess, about six months or so. Not any longer. I don’t remember how long.
Strottman: How did the maid situation work out for you while you were working?
Manley: Oh, it worked out very well. But as the children got older, I thought it was better for me not to work. As they brought in more and more people, then there were more possibilities of finding possible people to do these auxiliary jobs. And so it was possible for me to stop then. I didn’t work at anything else. That was all that I had done.
Strottman: When you came here from Chicago, you had an infant really, and an older child, how old was the older child?
Manley: Yes, my older daughter was three.
Strottman: What did you, how did raising children here in Los Alamos compare with what it was like raising them back in Chicago?
Manley: Well, of course, we were only in Chicago for a little over a year and she wasn’t old enough to go to school at that time. So it’s really not possible to make any comparison as far as raising children was concerned. There were people here who had older children. And such a question might have some significance for them, but it didn’t have any as far as I was concerned. Raising children here had some very pleasant aspects to it. They very quickly established a nursery school, and it was operated by, operated by one or two people who’d had experience. Most of the wives were really quite broad in experience. And so, for one thing, we had a wonderful supply of people to teach in the schools. It was just fantastic how many people popped up who could do all these things, you know, and had had experience. And the wives pitched in very quickly to do a lot of these things.
We had wonderful doctors. And we had one who especially looked after the children. The children loved him. He had a way, you know, a certain empathy with them that was just great. All you had to do was send him a message, and he was right there, if you wanted him to come and look over your children.
So I think in lots of ways, raising a child here had very, very positive features, very, and I think it was the comparison with other places was very, it was difficult for the children to take when they moved away from here. Most of them had very bad experiences of the sort of, of treatment that children are capable of giving to strange children. And most of them had experiences there, which they had never had before, and it was a shock to a good many of them when they went out into the big wide world. But we had none of that here. The children were really very compatible with each other. I think that was very much of a plus.
Strottman: Next question, how did you survive?
Manley: Survive? I don’t think it was hard to survive. A lot of people seem to think, well, people who were used to big city life and wanting to be able to take advantage of all of the things that big cities provide, they felt lost for quite a long time. But most of them, I think, managed to put up with countrified living, as it were, because there were so many pluses. People were very congenial. Most everybody who was allowed to live on The Hill then was in some way closely connected either with the physics or the chemistry or the metallurgy that was going on. And so they all had good backgrounds in educational fields. And they were very companionable. They were outgoing, very friendly. I think that, as a whole, it worked very well.
This is the one thing that for many years after the war was noticeable. And it was commented on in a good many places. That people who had been at Los Alamos during the war seem to have a comradery, an empathy with each other that was very noticeable. It was noticeable at meetings, for instance, of the physical society. They had enormous meetings, oh twice a year I guess, at least, they had one tremendous meeting in the spring, and it was usually held in Washington or New York.
People who had been at Los Alamos would gravitate together very, very quickly. And other people noticed it. And they said, those Los Alamos people, they all seem to have something in their backgrounds that brings then together. And it’s true. What it is is a certain remembrance of that experience, which was, I think, a strange thing, in that the whole effort of the place, and it wasn’t, of course, anything nearly the size it is now. But the whole effort of everyone here was directed in one direction. Everybody was working hard in that one direction. And that meant that there was a closeness developing that was maintained and is still maintained to a good extent. Although a great many people are gone, still there will be that same feeling.
And that’s why these little reunions that they have every five years or so, that same feeling bubbles up again. And it was something that very much pulled the town together. I don’t think you find that in most places, unless there is this tremendous effort going on in one direction.
Strottman: What were housekeeping and shopping like here?
Manley: We had a commissary, which was provided, you see, by the Army. And so we had very little shortage in the way of food. Sometimes it wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but there was lots available. And I think, probably, of course, we had to use coupons for everything. And I think some people who like to do comparative shopping, they want to shop here, and they want to go someplace else and see if they can save a few pennies. They didn’t like that, because there was just one place to shop. And there was also a small section of the, it wasn’t part of the commissary, but it was a little shop which the Army ran, where we could find things like, oh, perhaps occasionally, there’s be a bunch of suitcases. I think they were mostly things that were excess from the Army supplies. It was a small little shop and right across from the commissary, so we could jump in there and see what there was occasionally.
But most people lived a very simple type of life. We brought as much as we could with us that we thought we would want to use. Some people didn’t bring any furniture at all, but they were provided with furniture by the Army. And it was solid and it was fairly comfortable. You could get things like that very very quickly and very easily. Because you see General Groves had A-1-First Class priority, and anything he wanted to get, he got. There was no question about it. So the place was pretty well supplied. But as I say, if you were used to doing a lot of comparative shopping, I think some people felt a little bit restricted in that sense.
But most people if they wanted to do any terribly big shopping and do some comparative stuff would go to Santa Fe. And we had bus system that ran to Santa Fe. You could catch the bus in the morning and go into 109 East Palace, which you probably have heard of, and there you generally let Dorothy McKibbin know that you were in town and would be going back on the late bus in the afternoon. And bus in the afternoon would leave at four and get you up to The Hill again about five. And it was very convenient. People were supposed to be careful in Santa Fe, and people were. You didn’t talk about where you came from or anything about yourself. But most people went in just to shop for some one particular item. That was a very acceptable sort of system. It saved you having to use more gas for your own car than you wanted to. As a rule, people wouldn’t perhaps go in in twos or threes, not necessarily, but—
One thing about the children that was difficult, you know, those were the days of infantile paralysis. We were very careful not to go to Santa Fe in the late summer. That was the worst period. You avoided that, which meant that we very seldom got to Santa Fe for things like Fiesta. We did go in I think one year to the period when it was least crowded. But we didn’t stay very long. People had to be careful then about taking young children, especially, to town.
That provided an outlet for a lot of people who were not too anxious to live in the country.
Strottman: If you wanted to, could you go to Santa Fe every day, every week, every weekend?
Manley: The bus ran I think every day. You could go in every day if you wanted to. But nobody did. Most of the wives were busy on some project or other, helping out the whole effort. And you didn’t go in any oftener than you had to, you see. Everybody was pointed toward one direction, even if you didn’t know exactly what it was, you knew from your husbands or your friends that it was important and that it was a tremendous effort that had to be made.
Of course, the news got worse and worse for a while. And so, the effort was being made very hard. And of course, very little information was known about, for a long time, about what the Germans were doing. All of the scientists knew the German scientists. They knew their capabilities. So they were, they were making a tremendous effort there. They wanted to be sure that they managed it first.
Strottman: We have heard talk of a Christmas PX, was that during the war?
Strottman: —PX. Where they set up a special shop around Christmas time for people to shop up here at Los Alamos. Had you heard about that?
Manley: No, no, I didn’t know about that.
Sttottman: What was housekeeping like up here? Well, first, I should ask, where did you live and what was it like.
Manley: We lived in one of the Sundt apartments. It wasn’t quite ready when we got here, when I got here. They were building furiously, of course. And the place was one big mud heap when it started to rain. I was, and I still feel that they made a tremendous, tremendous effort to get everything done as fast as possible. And it was a stupendous job, it really was. The Sundt apartments were, I thought, quite comfortable. We had one or two bad items. They weren’t very well, the heating systems weren’t very good. It was hot air, and the hot air pipes were up by the ceiling. So that the apartments upstairs were very hot, and the apartments downstairs were cold on the floor and hot on the ceiling. That created some difficulties about the housekeeping.
One thing that we had that were very good were very nice sinks. Now that may not interest you very much, but it interested us terribly, because we had, we had no bathtubs, we had showers. Well, most people took showers anyway, it didn’t bother them. But for young children, that was a little bit of a hindrance.
So what did we do? That deep sink, half of the sink was a deep sink, and they were large. And I think that the Sundt apartment people must have been very fortunate when they were getting supplies for those apartments, because these deep sinks were wonderful. You could put a youngster in one of those deep sinks, give them a few toys to play with in the water, and they would have a wonderful time, just great. It provided, you know, a big help in the housekeeping.
There was very little dust, after things settled down. At first, it was quite dusty because there was so much construction going on. It was interesting because Ethel Froman said to me one day, well it’s not dirty dust. It’s clean dust. And of course, we had then, this wonderful clear air and the wonderful blue sky, which we don’t seem to get anymore, not much anyhow.
But the housekeeping was not difficult. And as I say, the maids were brought, they recruited maids from as far away as Truchas Village. And they were brought every day.
It was a big item for the pueblos and for the villages throughout the valley. Because before Los Alamos was established, those maids would have a hard time, women, would have a hard time getting any work of any kind. And what they were doing, many of them, was eking out their husbands’ income by acting as maids for a lot of the Anglo families that had settled in the valley and in Santa Fe. People who were fairly well off comfortably and could afford two or three maids.
But the pay was very, very low. Often, I think, people who have a feeling that Los Alamos made a big difference in the economic standards of the valley, that’s true. It did, but it made a tremendous difference in the right direction. Because Los Alamos had to pay the minimum wage. That was government ruling. It made a big difference to those women. They could come up as maids, work a day and be taken back again to their village, wherever it was, and they were paid minimum wage. It had a tremendous influence on the economics of the valley, all told.
I think later on some people resented the fact that Los Alamos had so much influence. But they didn’t seem to understand that that influence was because of the tremendous economic changes that were brought about in the valley. I think there’s more realization now than there was for a while. But a lot of people in small villages resented the fact that here was this tremendous group of mostly Anglo people and mostly from far away, who were coming to their area and having a tremendous influence on it.
Strottman: One of the rumors we had heard whether right or wrong, things that are right about Los Alamos is that the Pueblo governors set the wage scale. And so you told us that they had to pay minimum wage.
Manley: I think that they had to pay minimum wage, if I remember rightly now. I may be wrong about that. I’m just going by my recollection. You see, it was an Army post, really, although there was very little sign of its being an Army post, except that there were guards around. We eventually had a whole group of young fellows who had volunteered, most of them, in the army, thinking that they were going overseas. They weren’t sent overseas. They were sent to Los Alamos. I know some of them were very disgusted when they found that they were being sent here. They didn’t know what theywere being sent here for, although some of them who had very good trainings, of course, were very quickly assimilated into the work of the Laboratory. We did in that way get a lot of good people.
Strottman: What did you do with your free time?
Manley: Free time, oh my. I got very quickly interested in a small choral group, which was organized. That took most of my free time. I didn’t have a great deal, there was a lot of social life. It was social life among your friends, among people who were working in the same lines, and also a lot of people that you just had gotten newly acquainted with from some other part of the country. There was a large contingent from California, and so it was wonderful to get acquainted with them. There were quite a few people from the East Coast. I remember especially the Smiths, Cyril Smith and, oh dear, can’t even remember her first name. They were from Boston. There were several people from the area around Boston, where there are so many colleges.
And so you would have a lot of social life in that direction. But as far as outdoor, a lot of things were concerned with free time, usually it was hard to do much weekends because the men were working six days a week, and sometimes seven. But if you had an off day, you would perhaps go hiking in the mountains. Take a trip up into the back country. Go up as far as Fenton Lake perhaps and take a picnic. That was, the outdoors provided a great deal of extracurricular activity. Plus some social life, plus such activities as the choral society, which was the first organized group on The Hill.
There was a little theater and a little symphonietta got going. There were a great many people who were very good instrumentally. We had a wonderful cellist among the young group of fellows who were, had volunteered for the Army. And it turned out he was an excellent cellist. And so there were violinists and one or two people who did, were very good on brass instruments. And so it was easy to set up some of these little groups and there were a good many of such groups who got together.
There was a group who got together to serve Chinese food, and they would have Chinese dinners. Everybody would bring their own particular specialty in Chinese food and that sort of thing. There was a good deal of it.
Strottman: Beverly Agnew mentioned Chinese food. What were your options for communications and transportations within and outside Los Alamos? You already told us about the bus to Santa Fe. I know they didn’t have phones up here right away.
Manley: Not right away, no. I did make one trip to the West Coast. It wasn’t comfortable at all, but it was made as comfortable as possible for me. Because my sister had come home from China and was probably going back. They didn’t know for sure, and I wanted to see her before she went back. And so that was arranged, for me to go to the West Coast.
But trips like that were very unusual. You didn’t, it wasn’t possible most of the time, to make those trips. They were very careful, from the point of view of isolating the community and isolating the people in the community as much as possible, from a secrecy point of view. A lot around here, there was an area where we were allowed to go without special permission. We could go as far west as Cuba. I don’t think we were allowed to go to Albuquerque if I remember. I’ve forgotten where the southern boundary was. But we could go into a very restricted area around here, without any special arrangements being made. And of course, everyone had to have his pass to get in and out again, so that it was easy to keep track of people.
Strottman: How old did a child have to be to have a pass?
Manley: I think it was six, I’m not quite sure. I don’t remember.
Strottman: What about within Los Alamos, how did you get around, how did you contact your friends?
Manley: It was a very small area. You walked most of the time. Of course, most people had a car of some sort or other. But gasoline was rationed very strictly, and so you were careful about not wasting your fuel. But it was a very small area of, some people rode bicycles, there were quite a few bicycles around. But, you walked. The area was very small, very restricted. It was around the pond. Until the housing got spread out a good deal further, there was no necessity of any kind of transportation.
Strottman: Did you ever feel isolated during the war years that you were up here?
Manley: No, I didn’t feel isolated, particularly. I think some people did feel isolated. I had lived in enough different places that I think the idea of isolation didn’t occur to me. But I think some people did feel isolated. But they were mostly people who like to live in big cities.
Strottman: Did it adversely affect them in any way or the work that they did, those people, those few who did feel isolated?
Manley: I don’t think so. Of course, I wouldn’t be a good judge of that at all. But I don’t believe so. I think the men, certainly, knew what they were doing. As I say, everyone’s efforts were pointed in one direction. I think the women agreed with that philosophy and therefore they put up with whatever isolation they felt. I don’t think it was at all widespread.
Strottman: This next question you touched upon already and I wonder if you’d like to say anything more about what you remember about social relations during the Manhattan Project, do you wish to say anything about that.
Manley: It was, as I say, it was, it was a small community of very homogenous type. And people were very compatible with each other. We had problems, of course, sometimes. There were arguments about should we do this or should we do that. But I think, as a whole, the feeling of compatibility was very strong.
There wasn’t any great difficulty about social life at all. There was a little separation, a feeling of separation between the people who were strictly Army people. And there were a contingent of those, of course. And they pretty much kept to themselves. Although some of them were very good at mixing socially, and they did mix very well. But most of them kept to themselves. Their backgrounds, of course, they weren’t really, they weren’t really assigned to anything as far as the Laboratory was concerned, you see. And so that meant that they didn’t have that particular basis of social intercourse at all. Some of them were very good at mixing in and they did. But most of them, I think, stayed pretty much to their own friends.
Strottman: What about those military men who were assigned to the tech area, was there much mixing between the tech area military and the civilians?
Manley: Are you speaking of the young fellows who were here as the SEDs ?
Strottman: The ones who worked at the Lab.
Manley: They were assimilated fairly well, most of them. Some of them of course didn’t have the background to work in the Laboratory. They were assigned other things, not scientific projects, but assisting of various types. But the ones who did have the background, the scientific background, were assimilated very well. And most of them got involved very quickly in things in ways that were very useful. As I say, we had one very good cellist, for instance, who got into things very quickly, musical things, very quickly, and was really on demand from various groups to do, to work with them. I think he enjoyed life here very much. That was true of a lot of them who were outdoors people. They got involved with people who were going hiking and backpacking and that sort of thing.
But the amount of free time was pretty limited. And so a long backpack trip, for instance, was just out of the question. They didn’t have the time, couldn’t take the time. And so, it was usually day trips. But they were assimilated quite well, I thought, in that sort of thing.
Strottman: Who was the name of the cellist?
Manley: Oh, yes, F-r-y-x-e-l-l, he, after the war, went to Ohio State. He died, oh, ten years ago now. I still have on my desk a letter which he sent me. And the museum has a long letter from him about the number of times that he had done musical evenings with others, mostly violinists. Once in a while, they would have a quartet, a string quartet would get together, that sort of thing. And they do have in the Laboratory, in the museum, a list of, he had kept a list of the people that he had played with and what they had played. He did a very thorough job of that.
Strottman: Would you like a drink of water?
Manley: I think I’ll be all right.
Strottman: We’ve been told that, maybe two people, that the civilians were told to invite the military for holiday dinners. Do you recall being told to invite the military for holiday dinners?
Manley: I don’t remember ever being told at all. I think there may have been some suggestions made about trying to make them feel at home, you know, as much as possible. That effort was made, usually on the basis of whether you had the same sort of interests at all. But they had a lot of life of their own. They were all housed in dormitories, you know. They got very well acquainted with their own group of young people. I don’t remember that we were ever told specifically that we should entertain them. I think people did, quite a few people did entertain them. And people who knew them from, as I say, from activities, they were always welcome in their houses.
I don’t know whether you noticed, you probably didn’t notice, that two or three weeks ago, the Los Alamos Monitor, had an obituary for Kay Anderson, who was here during the war, came very early. Her husband was a chemist, a very good one. He won two or three honors. They were, they moved after he retired, to Grand Junction in Colorado, and Kay died last fall. Her house was a rendezvous during the war for a great many people who were musically inclined. There are times when, that obituary talked a great deal, in fact, about her life, their life, both she and her husband, they had two children, two boys at that time, and their life on the hill and how open their house was to anybody who wanted to come, for instance, and play the piano. And Otto Frisch was one who took advantage of that many times. And so, it was always on a basis, I think, of compatible interests. But I don’t ever remember being specifically told that we should entertain them at all.
Strottman: What was it like to live on a military base? You mentioned that it didn’t really look like one, but did it in any way affect you personally, effect your personal life?
Manley: No, it didn’t effect, I don’t think it effected, there were of course, guards around all the time, and there were, as I say, quite a few people who were higher echelons who were here. But the military aspect of it was very, very slight. You didn’t notice it particularly at all.
There were some, I know there were problems that came up between the Laboratory personnel, the top layer, and some of the military things. Of course, you probably heard that General Groves wanted everything compartmentalized. And the top echelon in the Lab said, no. And so that created a little bit of a problem for a while. But they finally persuaded him that, if they were going to get this job done, the scientists had to be open to communicate with each other in order to forward their work. And he accepted that. It was that sort of thing that, I don’t know, I suppose if my husband were alive, he could give you instances when they had quite a bit of discussion about various aspects of life on the hill with the military. But it was something that didn’t affect normally everybody at all.
Strottman: You had mentioned that you didn’t ask your husband questions about his job and that you knew that the job, the calculations you were working on were going to end the war soon and all. But when did you actually realize that what they were working on was a weapon, a bomb? When did you realize that?
Manley: I knew it had to be some sort of a weapon. It would be pretty hard not to realize that, that it was some sort of a weapon. And that it was some sort of a new type of weapon. But I didn’t go farther than that. Because for one thing, I didn’t want to go farther than that. And I didn’t want to feel that I was in any way involved in the thinking behind the work that was going on. I was much happier to be on the outskirts. I think quite a few of the wives maybe felt this way. Some of the wives of course knew what was going on, simply because their detail with their husbands’ work before that, in, well, some one or two of the universities, or in the technical aspects of what were, what was known. It was easy for them, after having had discussions of this sort with their husbands, to figure out what was going on. But most of the wives were very careful not to get involved. And I think that was right. They shouldn’t be.
Strottman: Where were you when you heard of the Trinity test?
Manley: I was in Los Alamos. And I knew that there was something, I knew it was, what was going on, I wasn’t sure. But I knew that there was something very critical in the works. Because my husband was never home, except for occasional visits, for several weeks before that. He was in charge of measuring the blast. And was, I found out, afterwards, he had a bunker, he was in charge of a bunker that was just six miles form the shot.
And they had to, before the shot was set off, they had to do a great deal of work in laying wires to measure the blast, at various distances from the Trinity site. Also, not only that, but to station people at various places, at distant places, so that they could also measure the blast at those points. So there was a lot of work to be done and a lot of it was work which nobody knew exactly how to do. And so it took a lot of time and effort. And he didn’t come home from the Trinity test, I think, for several days after that. Because he was involved in the work at the test site.
But apparently, some of the wives, I think, were interested in seeing if they could see the blast. And some of them had gone up into the Jemez Mountains, watching, hoping to see the blast. They didn’t see it. But I didn’t go. For one thing, I didn’t want to leave my children alone at that time.
Strottman: Were you worried about him?
Manley: No, no not particularly. I think that, in a way, you were always worried because they were all working so hard. And that wasn’t good. They were short of sleep, it was very hot down by the test site. And there was a great deal of dust, living was difficult, and their hours were terrible. They were working day and night, essentially. From that point of view, it was something to worry about. They were all getting terribly tired. And I knew that he was terribly tired. But in a sense, you were glad when it was over, when the test was over, because, then they did, to a certain point, they relaxed. Not an awful lot. But some. It was one of the critical points in the whole thing.
Strottman: Where were you when you heard of the bombing of Hiroshima and what was your reaction to the news?
Manley: Well, I was also in Los Alamos. That was a difficult thing. Because most people felt that it was bad, but it was also good. It had both sides to it. It ended the war, very quickly. And we were, after, afterwards, I remember two or three trips that we took, just enjoyable outings, we, at one trip, way down in the South Pacific someplace, and I don’t remember what island we were on. But we were traveling there. We were waiting for our plane, and my husband got talking with somebody who was also waiting for a plane. And he said, “Where are you from?” etcetera, and so my husband told him.
And he said, “I want to shake your hand. Because I was in the first contingent that was slated to invade Japan. And we knew that it was going to be a tremendously hard invasion, that there was going to be an awful loss of life, tremendous loss of life, on both sides. That it would be agonizingly long. And everybody who was slated knew that. And when the word came that the war was over, suddenly,” he said, “You have no idea the relief that we all felt. Because it meant we wouldn’t have this invasion of Japan. It was over.”
The same thing happened on a plane coming back from a different trip. One of the men who was serving as a hostess on the plane, the same thing happened. He said, “Oh, you’re from Los Alamos,” he said, “Well,” he said, “It was just a wonderful thing. I was in the Army then and we knew that we were going to have to invade Japan, and it was going to be a terribly long and agonizing affair.” So it had its good side, as well as its bad side.
The scientists on the whole had nothing to do with the decision, of course. It was a political decision as to what they would do with the bomb. Their job was to make it and have it available. Most of them felt that. And then the discussions and the decisions about using it were in other hands.
Strottman: Where were you and what did you, how did you react when you heard about the Nagasaki bomb?
Manley: It was just a repeat, just a repeat. I think if they had waited a little bit longer, they might not have had to use that one. But you don’t know. You’re just guessing. So, but I think they felt that it was, the decision makers decided that it was necessary to use it, and so it was used.
Strottman: What is your strongest and most vivid memory of the Manhattan Project. after almost fifty years?
Manley: Yes. It’s very difficult. It’s a composite of several things, of friendships that you made, congenial, of a congenial group of people, all working on one project and in one direction. And I think perhaps also the thing that was very, very noticeable in those days. That people were interested in being innovative. If a problem came up, everybody just contributed. “Well, what could we do? Can we do this? Can we do that? Can we do the other?” And there was no hesitation about contributing whatever you could contribute when there was something to be worked on. That I think was one of the things that was most noticeable. People had no hesitation to discuss any question that needed discussion. That I think was part of the camaraderie that grew up and made it so different from other periods in your life.
But as, as people have said in their writings, I know in one or two, people have said that it was a short period, but it seemed to be the most important, biggest period in their whole lives. And I think that’s true. It was a short period, but it was a tremendously influential period with everybody. And Laura Fermi for instance said in one of her books, you may have read it. She said, “It was a short time that we were there, but it seemed to be the most impressive period in her whole life.” And of course she didn’t know what was going on any more than any of the other wives. But she knew that it was something important.
Strottman: Did living in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project alter the direction of your life?
Manley: Of my life? No. It didn’t, because I was interested in seeing that my children were taken care of and my husband’s work was going on. So that was where my life was directed. My life had changed before that, into this direction. I had been planning to go in for university teaching and had done some and expected to go on with that. But then my husband took a position at the University of Illinois in 1937. Then the most important thing was that, we were leaving New York, and we were leaving the area around Columbia, which I had been working in. And so I, that’s when my life changed, the pattern of my life changed. Because I decided not to continue with the work that I was doing when we went to Illinois. And so, from then on, my emphasis was toward my husband’s program.
Things did change somewhat after the war, because while we had thought of going back to university teaching, which was what a lot of people did, he was persuaded to stay at Los Alamos. We had gone to the University of Washington, or he had gone to the University of Washington in St. Louis, Washington University it is, in St. Louis. They were hoping that he would stay. But when the question arose of whether he could possibly be freed from there to come back to Los Alamos, he decided to come back. Because Los Alamos needed everybody they could have, those days, right after the war.
And so, we were back here. And his work continued and branched out, and he got involved with a lot of the Washington aspect of things. He got involved with the General Advisory Committee, which was set up by the government to advise the Atomic Energy Commission. And that group was a tremendously important and wonderful group of people. So that, at that point, then I was busy, busy looking after the children and trying to make it as easy for him as I could, because he was doing a lot of traveling and a great deal of a lot of work with various groups of people in Washington and also here.
But the Manhattan Project didn’t change my own life particularly.
Strottman: Given similar circumstances, would you do it again, work for, come here to live and be here?
Manley: Oh yes, definitely. People don’t realize what it was like then in 1942, right after Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a thing that galvanized the country, absolutely. Everybody was so shocked by that, dismayed that our own, our own ability to watch our country’s protection had turned out to be so bad. It was bad. Pearl Harbor should never have happened, if they had been on the lookout as they should have been, it should never have happened. But it did, and the country was shocked, so shocked. So that it really was a period that it’s hard for people to realize now the situation that everybody was in. And if something popped up that you could do to try to alleviate those problems, you did it. And that was what this was.
I remember, I can remember, after Pearl Harbor, the day of Pearl Harbor, I remember very clearly. And I remember a couple of days afterward, when my husband received a phone call from Leo Szilard, would he come to Chicago to help with an effort that would have an effect on the war. This was just at Christmas time, after Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was the sixth of December, and around Christmas time, this all boiled up. And if that were to happen again, in any other circumstances, I would certainly say, “Yes, we’ll go. If you want to go, it’s the thing to do. If you feel that you want to do this, that’s the thing to do. We’ll go.” And we did. We picked up, right away, that January and moved to Chicago.
And I don’t know how he got done all the things he did. It was just amazing. He looked after getting us an apartment, not far from the stands in Chicago, where all the work was being done. The Wigners, who you may have heard of, lived upstairs. They were on the third floor. We were on the second floor. Other people lived very close, all around, in that whole area. People collected very quickly. And the whole operation got going very, very swiftly, in Chicago. It was amazing how much got done in such a short time. And the whole thing was set up and working just amazingly fast.
And I would certainly say we would do it again. I think that would be the same answer from all of those people who were approached to come to Chicago. Because at that time, the country was just galvanized. The effort toward trying to do something that would further the security of the country, and of the free world. Because at that time, you see, Hitler was making tremendous strides, tremendous strides. And that news was very upsetting, very upsetting. And so many of the scientists who were here and working, Szilard himself, Fermi, oh, just a great many of them, were simply refugees from Europe. They had to get away. And they were lucky. They weren’t all so lucky. But the ones that were here, were. They were forward enough looking, so that they got out of Europe in a hurry. And they brought all sorts of news with them, most of it very upsetting. And so, I don’t think anybody who was involved that first year in Chicago would say that they wouldn’t do it again. They all would do it again, all, I’m sure.
Strottman: You were definitely in the majority, because we have only one person who would not do it again. Teresa picked up on something that you mentioned before the interview began about misinformation or misconceptions about Los Alamos that you would like to correct. Are there any that you would like to get on the record and in the actual interview?
Manley: I think I have corrected most of them that I could correct. I think, one of the things that bothers me about the younger group of scientists is that they aren’t particularly interested in knowing what went on in those days. They are more interested, this isn’t true of all of them of course by any means, but a great many of them are more interested in furthering their own technical advance, or their own financial advance. And they don’t delve into the way science was done in those days.
A great many of us you see now, they apply for a grant from someplace or other, or they get a big block of money out of the DOE or from the federal government of some form or other. That is the way science is done. But that was not the way science was done in the ’30s and the ’20s back in those days. The scientists worked very much in ways that demanded more of them and demanded more of their ingenuity than it happens today, it seems to me. And so, there were a good many things that went on in those days, which were indicative of people who had resourcefulness, who if one thing didn’t work, they tackled another, another way of doing it, very quickly and very rapidly.
There’s a saying that, before the days of huge grants, science was done with ceiling wax and string. Which means that they used whatever devices they could. And they were amazingly good at using everything that was possible and interpreting what they found out in every way possible. I don’t know that the younger scientists are as efficient at that sort of thing. If they don’t have the money to buy the very best, latest equipment, too bad. In a way, it’s wonderful, because they can do a lot more things with the money that’s available that they get. But whether it makes them better scientists, I don’t know. Some of them are very much interested in delving into pure science, very much interested. But I think that maybe, I’m just stating my own feeling about things, and that’s a bad thing to do, I guess.
Strottman: Computer jockeys.
Manley: There’s a certain amount of mechanization about everything that tends to leave people in a state where they aren’t forced to be innovative and ingenious about doing things.
Strottman: I can think of the time my husband changed the paper—
Manley: Uh huh, there you are.
Strottman: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Manley: Oh my goodness, I’ve been talking steadily and probably a great deal that isn’t going to be much use to you. But I do think that, as people have said, it was a period in people’s lives that they will never forget, never forget. A good many people who come back for the reunions that are held come hoping to be able to renew a lot of those approaches that they had.
I think of, for instance, of a person like Cy Betts. I don’t know whether you’ve ever heard of him or not. He’s now a general, I guess. But at any rate, he was one of the Army Corps that was here, one of the top men. He worked in the, did something about the Laboratory, some business between the Laboratory and the Army, you know. He was very popular, a great guy. And he had a nice tenor voice. So we made him sing. We made him sing. And he was at one time a member of a little double quartet, which I organized.
And we had a lot, we did a lot of singing. And we did a lot of programs of Christmas carols, a couple of Christmases, we did carols, not the ordinary type of carols. But the ones that you will find that have been collected in what is known as the Oxford Book of Carols, collected by the Oxford University Press, published by them. All sorts of beautiful folk carols, with lovely harmonies, which are just now beginning to be heard and known in the last few years. You’ll hear more of them on the radio toward Christmas time.
Well, we made Cy sing with this group. And when we knew that Cy was leaving the hill, he was going back to, he had been assigned someplace else. We wrote a couple of extra verses saying goodbye to Cy and telling him he should better come back again some day. That was the sort of thing that happened and that you remember.
On the last reunion, I think it was, 40, maybe 45, Cy and his wife were here for that reunion. And I said to him, Cy, do you remember that we used to sing? Oh yes, he said, I remember. I had a wonderful time singing with those groups and I remember you wrote a verse just for me, telling me to come back. That sort of thing, that happened a great deal.
Strottman: I have one quick question refers to something you mentioned towards the end. It has gotten into print that Szilard came to Los Alamos. However in his biography, he says in his own autobiography. He says that no he didn’t. Can you tell us specifically—speak about Szilard’s relationship to Los Alamos just for the record?
Manley: Have you read Richard Rhodes book? I have no memory of Szilard ever being here, and I don’t think he ever was. He was very, very much concerned, right from the beginning, about this weapon. And I think all the time he stayed in Chicago, with the Chicago group there. But I don’t remember his ever being here at Los Alamos. It wasn’t that people didn’t know or didn’t see him a great deal. But he could project his thinking into the future what was going to happen, because he knew that it would be developed. He was pretty sure it would be developed, and it worried him terribly about how it would be used, or whether it would be used. But I don’t think he ever came to Los Alamos at all. I’m sure I would have known if he did. I have no recollection of his having been here.
Strottman: Thank you very much. One more if you don’t mind, and if you could phrase it this way, about Dorothy McKibbin. What I want to know is, who was she and if you could tell us a little bit about her.
Manley: Dorothy McKibbin was in charge of the office in Santa Fe, which really took care of a lot of, a lot of, just, arrangements, things that were coming to The Hill, getting them arranged to transport people who were coming new, would stop at Dorothy’s office first. Dorothy was a person who had lived in Santa Fe for some time. She and her husband moved there because he had tuberculosis. And a good many people visited Santa Fe because of tuberculosis. And a good many of them recovered because it was a wonderful place for those people.
Dorothy was very effective for a long time in looking after the, after he died, and Dorothy knew Oppie knew Dorothy very well. He was the person who recruited her to look after the office in Santa Fe. She was very effective in taking care of people and
taking care of shipments that were coming to the Hill. And of course, she knew most of the people that lived on the Hill and was a sort of a surrogate mother in a good many cases. There must have been at least, I would say, eight or ten weddings that were performed at Dorothy’s house during those two or three years. She was a very great help, very great help.
Strottman: Thank you very much. Sounds like she really loved the people.
Manley: Well, she was very fond of Oppie. They were very great friends. I was always taken by that comment that when she saw his blue eyes, she wanted to work for him, something like that. I’m not so sure about that.
Strottman: Imagine yourself falling—