Pioneering women integral part in nuclear arms race

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- We have a rich supply of uranium here on the Colorado Plateau near the four corners region, and that supply has a rich history in the Grand Valley.

"Grand Junction was the headquarters for domestic procurement for uranium," said Laurena Davis, historian. "Uranium is the fuel for atomic energy."

You might not consider yourself a historian, but chances are that you've heard of the Manhattan Project.

"Which was the government's efforts to build an atomic bomb in World War II," said Davis.

People like Albert Einstein and President Roosevelt worked on the project, along with 130,000 others.

"Many of those workers were women," said Davis. "It was critical that women were involved in the Manhattan Project. There already was a labor shortage."

Davis says women like Katherine Wray and Leona Marshall played an integral part in the development of atomic weapons.

"Even if they didn't understand exactly what their role was in the bigger picture," said Davis.

Some of those women lived in the Grand Valley, Grand Junction specifically.

"In Grand Junction, some of the women worked in clerical roles, they worked in the transportation unit in South Suthers Street, they might have worked in clerical and administrative assistant roles in the mills," said Davis.

Some of the women were even recruited to work in the labs at the mine mills. Grand Junction was a secret location to mine and refine uranium.

"There was that sense of urgency, national security and some patriotism, and sense of importance about the work they were doing, even if they didn't understand the entirety of their work," said Davis.

According to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, by 1946, over 2.5 million pounds of uranium were produced from the Colorado Plateau, and that includes Grand Junction.

"The same ores that contain Radium and Vanadium, can contain Uranium," said Davis.

All of that would not have been possible without the women who helped pioneer the nuclear arms race.

"It's important that women's contributions are taken seriously and honored historically, so that they may also inspire future generations," said Davis.

The Department of Energy and the National Parks Service are honoring them during the Women of the Manhattan Project Week.

If you missed the presentation and want to see it, or hear it, the Mesa County Historical Society and The Oral History Project recorded it. You can watch it at the Museum of Western Colorado.

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