Françoise (Aron) Ulam was the wife of mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, who worked for the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, NM during World War II.
In 1943, Stanislaw was recruited to join the Manhattan Project by friend and fellow mathematician John von Neumann. The Ulams did not move to Los Alamos, however, until February of 1944 because they struggled to obtain security clearances due to their foreign background and lack of citizenship.
On February 4, 1944, the Ulams arrived in snowy Los Alamos. In an interview with the Los Alamos Historical Society, Françoise recalled being struck by the beauty of the Los Alamos landscape. She shared that Stan always said, “the air felt like champagne.”
At the time of their arrival in Los Alamos, Françoise was pregnant. The couple’s only child, Claire, was born in July 1944. She was one of the many babies born at Los Alamos, whose birth certificate listed PO Box 1663 as the place of birth.
While Françoise was not a member of the Manhattan Project staff, she became interacted with and befriended many well-known Los Alamos scientists and workers as well as their spouses and children. Some of these people included Cyril and Alice (Kimball) Smith, David and Frances Hawkins, Otto Frisch and Emilio Segrè.
In 1918, Françoise Aron was born in Paris, France. She initially came to the United States as an exchange student in 1938 and studied comparative literature at Mills College in Oakland, CA.
With World War II and Hitler’s occupation of Europe expanding, Françoise decided to stay in the United States rather than return to Paris. She became a graduate assistant in the French department of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.
In the fall of 1939, Françoise met Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish mathematician lecturing at Harvard University, at her Mount Holyoke friend’s party. She earned her master’s degree in comparative literature from Mount Holyoke in 1941.
Shortly after moving to Madison, WI for Stanislaw’s appointment as assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, the couple got married in 1941.
Shortly after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, Françoise received her American citizenship. She recalled the justice at the Santa Fe courthouse thanking Gerhart Friedlander, Bruno Rossi and herself for their work at Los Alamos.
At the end of World War II, Françoise and Stanislaw were able to reconnect with some of their family in France and Poland, respectively. Both Françoise and Stanislaw, however, lost family members in the Holocaust.
After World War II, the Ulams moved to Southern California for Stan’s career move to the University of Southern California (USC). They soon returned to Los Alamos in 1946, though, as Stanislaw became involved with the hydrogen bomb project.
In 1967, Stanislaw retired from Los Alamos. The Ulams moved around the United States according to Stanislaw’s professorships, but they eventually settled in Santa Fe, NM.
Following Stan’s death in 1984, she arranged for the Santa Fe Institute to receive Stanislaw Ulam’s library. In 1998, she published her personal memoirs, From Paris to Los Alamos: A Franco-American Odyssey.
At the age of ninety-three, Françoise (Aron) Ulam died on April 30, 2011 in El Castillo, NM.
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