During the Manhattan Project, 640 women worked at Los Alamos — about 11% of the total workforce.
Today, women comprise 34.9% of the Lab’s workforce. Women hold nearly a third of management positions, and women are 20.4% of the professional research and development workforce.
To mark Women’s History Month in March, the Laboratory created a timeline that lays out just some of the accomplishments, challenges and triumphs of notable Laboratory women.
Below, we've excerpted some of the powerful quotes collected in the timeline. Take a look — and then dig into the full story.
Lab-supported education programs such as the Summer Physics Camp for Young Women and Girls in STEM aim to inspire and provide opportunities for the next generation of women to make an impact at the Laboratory and beyond.
On creating a clever cover
Floy Agnes “Aggie” Naranjo Lee, a member of New Mexico’s Santa Clara Pueblo, worked as a technician in the hematology lab at Los Alamos in 1946. Encouraged by Enrico Fermi, she went on to earn a doctorate and work at Argonne National Laboratory. In a Voices of the Manhattan Project interview, Lee described how Manhattan Project officials told the local public a cover story that Los Alamos was a “hideout for pregnant WACs. Santa Fe loved that story — they believed it,” she said.
On overcoming color
African American biochemist Julia Hardin joined the Laboratory in 1964 to research and study mutations that occur in DNA when it is exposed to radiation. “There was a big effort then to recruit blacks, and for the first time in my life it became obvious to me that I was a statistic,” she said in 1984. “I’ve probably been a statistic here in Los Alamos, but I’ve never felt like one. With a personality and attitude like mine, you overcome color and people become people.”
On being a woman in science
Chemist Darleane Hoffman came to Los Alamos with her husband, a physicist, in 1953. “There is often some initial shock when I am introduced, and Dr. D.C. Hoffman turns out to be a woman,” she told The Atom magazine in 1974. “But so often, I think it is not so much discrimination as the bald fact that too many girls are trained from grade school in the belief that there are certain suitable occupations for women and that they should aspire no further. I think it is appropriate for girls to develop appropriate images so they don’t think of women scientists as freaks. You can follow a scientific career and still have a home and family.”
On making it official
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter designated the week of March 2 as National Women’s History Week. “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation,” Carter said in his message to the nation. “Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
On ever-growing diversity
In 2016, the Laboratory was named for the first of several times as a top-50 employer for Latina women by Latina Style magazine. “If you had told me as a young Hispanic girl growing up in Northern New Mexico that I would one day serve in an important role for a world-renowned institution in support of the national security mission, I would have thought it unattainable,” says Human Resources' Leah Sanchez. “Los Alamos National Laboratory provided me that opportunity.”
On a new trajectory
Carolyn Zerkle became the Laboratory’s executive director on January 1, 2018. “I really think we’re seeing this seismic shift — not only at the Laboratory, but throughout the country,” she says. “We’re seeing positions where, previously, women weren’t represented in any real way to seeing them in sizeable numbers and in positions of power and authority. It’s heartening to witness and is a trajectory that I think will continue.” Zerkle is now leader of the Laboratory's Emergency Operations division.