In 1943, thousands of workers began arriving at remote outposts in Washington, New Mexico and Tennessee where American ingenuity would be pressed to its limit in a secret and frantic push to build the first atomic bomb.

One particular group of eight women at Hanford in Eastern Washington and Los Alamos in New Mexico would have been among the forgotten, if not for the FBI’s feverish hunt for private details about their lives. The government that had recruited them to the elite Manhattan Project was now trying to strip them of vital security clearances by proving they were lesbians.

Declassified FBI records and Atomic Energy Commission memos reviewed by The Seattle Times chronicle the women’s experiences trying to live their authentic lives while staying ahead of the FBI in a chase that stretched from Los Alamos to Hanford and spanned a decade.

Robert Franklin.

“The [Atomic Energy Commission], in saying these people are going to be security risks, they’re damning them. You’re also lumping them in with groups that might wish the U.S. and its allies harm,” Robert Franklin, assistant professor of history at Washington State University, Tri-Cities, and assistant director of the Hanford History Project, told the paper. “They’re not enemies, but the fact is they could be compromised just because of who they are.”

“It’s deeply unsettling and really should be a cautionary tale,” he added. “They wouldn’t have been a risk if we had been able to accept people for who they are.”

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The Seattle Times
The Advocate