Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 25

Before long, the company
was recruting young women
by the thousands . . . as they
were about to graduate.
tion would help keep the project a secret.
Following Groves' orders, the government purchased 59,000 acres of rural land
along the Clinch River in East Tennessee
and designed a plant with nine buildings.
Construction began in February 1943 and
Tennessee Eastman, the for-profit company charged with running the facility,
recruited job-hungry employees from the
surrounding area, including Knoxville.
The sole purpose of the Y-12 plant was
to house 1,152 massive bomb-building
"calutrons" in a town that would later
come to be known as Oak Ridge.
Invented by Ernest O. Lawrence, director of the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, the simple
mass spectrometer called the calutron-
the name stood for "California University Cyclotron"-could separate and
enrich uranium isotopes with two large
magnets. (In 1940, Lawrence won the
Nobel Prize for his creation and reportedly assigned patent rights to the U.S.
government for $1.)
Ray Smith, historian for the City of
Oak Ridge and Y-12 who worked at Y-12
for 48 years, retiring as the Y-12 Historian,
describes the process this way: "If I had
two rubber bands hanging down from my
hand and I put a golf ball on one of them
and a ping-pong ball on the other, then I
held it down to my side and very quickly
I spun it up so that it would make an arc,
that golf ball, being heavier than the pingpong ball would stretch that rubber band
farther than the ping-pong ball."
In the calutron, Smith says, the heavier
Uranium-238 isotopes act like the golf
balls, leaving the lighter, less plentiful
Uranium-235 to be processed into atomic
energy.
The operation was fairly simple, but it
required humans-lots of them-to constantly monitor the equipment. Most of

the area's young men were fighting in
the war overseas, so Tennessee Eastman
started exploring the idea of hiring girls
straight out of high school.
"They could be trained to do it," Smith
says. "You just turn the knob to keep a
meter on a certain point. It didn't require
any technical training. They didn't even
know what they were reading."
Before long, the company was recruiting young women by the thousands at the
schools where they were about to graduate. Of the 22,482 people working at Y-12
in August of 1945, Smith indicates that
many of them were 18-year-old girls.

Calling All Calutron Girls
Growing up in the small community of
Oliver Springs, Tennessee, Huddleston
had always wanted to teach. She was so
good at tutoring both her younger and

older classmates that the teacher let her
skip seventh grade and go straight to high
school. Huddleston graduated early, at
age 16, and was soon instructing kids in
grades 4-8 at a nearby mining camp. She
was working at a hosiery mill in 1944, biding her time until she could go to college
to get a bona fide teaching degree and
waiting for her fiancé, Lawrence, who'd
been drafted, to come home from Europe,
when she heard about the job openings
at Y-12.
During the weeklong training, Huddleston's employer emphasized the strict
rules of the plant. "What you learn here
and what you do here stays here," they
said. "Don't tell your family. Don't tell
your friends. All you need to know is that
you're working to help end the war."
In 2004, during a visit to Y-12, a former Calutron operator named Gladys
Owens told Smith that on the last day
of training, a man in a suit entered the
classroom and reiterated what the girls
had already been told: "We can't tell you
what you're going to be doing. We can
only tell you how to do it." Pausing, the
man added, "All I can say is if our enemy
gets it first, God help us."
Working the swing shift eight hours
a day, Huddleston sat at her "cubicle,"
watching and adjusting meters and knobs
and gauges on control panels connected

Y-12 had nine large buildings which housed 1,152 Calutrons
used to separate the Uranium-235 for Little Boy.

MAY/JUNE 2020

25



Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020

Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 3
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 4
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 5
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 6
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 7
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 8
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 9
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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 17
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 18
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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 20
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 21
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 22
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 23
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 24
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 25
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 26
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 27
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 28
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 29
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 30
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 31
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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 60
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 61
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 62
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 63
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 64
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 65
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - 66
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - BPG 32
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - BPG 1
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - BPG 2
Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - BPG 3
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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2020 - Cover4
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