Irene LaViolette was born in the United States and raised in Greece. During the Nazi invasion of Greece, she worked as a nurse, and encouraged the nurses to strike when the Germans took over her hospital. In 1941, she joined a repatriation group to return to America. After studying chemistry at Barnard, she began to work for the DuPont Company. There she met her husband, Fred. When Fred was transferred to Hanford, she went with him, and worked on analyzing the Columbia River’s water and checking Geiger counters.