Her job title was secretary, but really, she was The Gatekeeper of Los Alamos.
New scientists arriving to Santa Fe would be holding a letter with the directions, “Go to 109 E. Palace,” where Dorothy McKibbin was waiting in her office. Dorothy would then type up the new employee’s information on an index card, which quickly became known as the McKibbin Card, before they headed up the hill to Los Alamos.
Today, the National Security Research Center, which is the Lab’s classified library and located in the National Security Sciences Building, has preserved the collection of McKibbin Cards. LANL archivists and historians often refer to them when responding to the frequently asked question: “I think I have a relative who worked at the Lab during the Manhattan Project – can you confirm that?”
A hunch and a job offer
One day in late March 1943, Dorothy was crossing the street in Santa Fe, when she ran into local businessman Joe Stevenson. Joe knew she was looking for work and asked Dorothy if she would be interested in a job as a secretary.
“Secretary of what?” Dorothy asked.
“Secretary – don’t you know what a secretary does?” replied Joe.
Dorothy had a strong hunch the job had to do with the government or World War II. Joe gave her 24 hours to think it over and, if interested, to meet her potential employer the following day in the lobby of the La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe.
Mysterious and Fascinating
The next day, Dorothy waited in the hotel lobby, and a man with “wiry black hair and bright blue eyes” and wearing a trench coat introduced himself as “Mr. Bradley.” He asked questions about her knowledge of Santa Fe, background, and skills. As Dorothy answered each question, Mr. Bradley “leaned in and stared intensely at her.” Dorothy, captivated and mesmerized, accepted the job. “I never met a person with a magnetism that hit you so fast and so completely,” she said. “I knew anything he was connected with would be alive.”
Alive indeed. When Dorothy reported to work on her first day, “Mr. Bradley” would reveal his real identity as famed scientist and leader of Project Y, J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Two decades of service
After World War II ended and her boss and friend Oppenheimer left the Lab, Dorothy stayed. She worked at the Lab for 20 years, retiring in 1963 when the Lab’s Santa Fe office closed. Dorothy lived in Santa Fe until her death in 1985.