The post-lockdown wedding boom is robust, and June is the classic month for sweethearts to seal the deal ceremoniously. Whether you have a wedding to be in, attend or crash, get some historic inspiration from a Manhattan Project couple.
During World War II, Jean Waiter was a WAC, a member of the Women’s Army Corps. Her first assignment at the hush-hush Project Y in Los Alamos was with the electronics group, but in 1944 she worked on velocity testing to help develop the Gadget. She soon met Winston Dabney, a master sergeant for the Special Engineering Detachment. The two married in 1945.
Here are 8 takeaways from the Dabney wedding.
1. Play the odds. According to a 1993 article in the Los Alamos Monitor, Jean had surmised that the odds were good for her and other women to find romantic contenders among the Project Y fellows. She estimated a 20-to-1 ratio in the ladies’ favor. Jean chose wisely. She and Winston were married for several decades and had three children.
2. Peace time is the right time. The couple married four days after the end of World War II as Jean “didn’t want to be a war bride.”
3.Pick a beloved spot for the reception. The Dabneys’ wedding reception was at the famed La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe, a favorite hang-out for Project Y workers — and spies.
4. Have generous friends. La Fonda staff provided use of the kitchen, but not food. With WAC and SED comprising the guest list, Jean and Winston had the benefit of a resourceful crowd. Attendees brought food and materials down from Los Alamos to ensure a successful reception, including ice.
5. Go big on the cake. The Dabneys had a three-tiered all-butter pound cake for their wedding, a true extravagance while butter was tightly rationed.
6. Invite “Capt. Baker.” In the LA Monitor article, Jean said the for the wedding reception, “The liquor was obtained from the Officer’s Club by Capt. Baker.” While it ’s not certain, this is presumably a reference to Nelson C. Baker, a lieutenant with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Among his many titles at Project Y was “Post Recreation Officer,” so perhaps libations oversight was just part of his job.
7. Honeymoon nearby. For their honeymoon, the Dabneys vacationed three days up north in Red River, New Mexico. Jean claimed the newlyweds spent their time fishing.
8. Practice patience from the get-go. Housing woes have always been a part of Los Alamos life. When the young marrieds returned from their honeymoon, they could not live together, due to scarce housing for couples. They each returned to their respective barracks to live with other WAC and SED. Eventually, they were able to move in with one another. Their family lived in Los Alamos for about 60 years.
Learn more about Jean Waiter and Winston Dabney from our friends at the Atomic Heritage Foundation. Can’t get enough of wartime weddings? Watch footage from Marjorie and Hugh Bradner’s Manhattan Project wedding in 1943.