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Adrienne Lowry’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Adrienne Lowry arrived at Los Alamos in 1942 after her husband, radiochemist and co-discoverer of plutonium, Joseph Kennedy, was selected by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the chemistry division at Los Alamos. Lowry recalls the early days of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, when construction was just beginning and housing remained scarce for many of the workers who had just arrived. Prior to the birth of her first child, Lowry helped carry mail between Los Alamos and Santa Fe. She recalls meeting many of the famous scientists who worked on the bomb, including Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, Art Wahl, Glenn Seaborg, and Oppenheimer. When Arthur Compton offered Joseph Kennedy a position as the chair of the chemistry department at Washington University after the War, Lowry and her husband moved to St. Louis.

Date of Interview:
January 14, 2014
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: I am Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation from Washington, D.C. and it is Tuesday, January 14, 2014 and I am here with Adrienne Lowry, who was married to Joseph Kennedy, a radio chemist with the Manhattan Project. Adrienne, let us start with you. Can you tell us your name, say your name and spell it, please?

Adrienne Lowry: Oh, my name is Adrienne Kennedy Lowry. Adrienne is spelled A-d-r-i-e-n-n-e, and Lowry is spelled L-o-w-r-y.

Kelly: And, you were formerly married to Joseph Kennedy, is that correct?

Lowry: Yes, we were married in 1942 in California.

Kelly: Okay. Well, let us just start with a little bit about you and where and when you were born.

Lowry: [Laughs] I was born in California, Northern California, near San Francisco, on a farm, Santa Clara County, 2/2/22.

Lowry: And my family lived for a while in first Los Altos and then we moved to Atascadero, and then we moved to Santa Barbara. I grew up in Santa Barbara, graduated from high school there in ’39, and went to Berkeley as a student.

Kelly: What were you studying at Berkeley?

Lowry: I majored in public health and it was a very interesting major because it exposed me to a variety of sciences, and I had to take physiology and zoology and physics and chemistry. [Laughs] Joe was my instructor in freshmen chemistry. The professor was G. N. Lewis, a famous chemist. I was exposed to physics and bacteriology and physiology and psychology. So, I got a big exposure of science.

Kelly: So, did you like chemistry?

Lowry: It was difficult for me, but I liked the instructor. [Laughs]

Kelly: So, how did that end up? You were a student then at Berkeley from ’38 or ’39?

Lowry: From ’39 to the beginning of ’43. We went to Los Alamos at the very beginning, January.

Kelly: So, what brought you to Los Alamos?

Lowry: Oh, well, Oppenheimer asked Joe to be division leader for the chemistry division and to bring a team of workers to set up the section in the tech area for work on chemistry, whatever it was. I did not know, because everything was top secret.

Kelly: So, what brought him to Oppenheimer’s attention? Why did Oppenheimer choose him? What had he been doing?

Lowry: He had already discovered plutonium by that time. He had gotten his PhD at Cal, and then worked with the other three scientists who were involved in the discovery of plutonium, Emilio Segré was a physicist, Glenn Seaborg, and then Art Wahl was a graduate student. Art Wahl’s PhD thesis was about the purification of plutonium, I think. His thesis had been top secret for years. It was not published for anybody to see in the public. They were all working together at Berkeley and Oppenheimer asked Joe if he would be willing to go to Los Alamos, and of course, he said yes.

It was very interesting, getting to Los Alamos at that time, because it was still in a big construction mode. We did not have housing right away. We stayed in the boys’ dorm at Los Alamos, and that was an experience. Everybody was put to work when they got there and there was a wonderful woman, Rose Bethe, who was assigned to the housing and she assigned everybody a place to live. [Laughs] Her husband is Hans Bethe, a very famous physicist and a wonderful man, a Hungarian. I do not know where they came from, Cornell, I believe. And we stayed in the boys’ dorm until we had a place to live. We were then moved to a duplex—army construction, war-time construction—which is all the type of housing that was there at Los Alamos.

The person who lived in the other half of our duplex was Professor English and his wife, Betty, and they were from the East Coast. They had an interesting experience moving into their duplex. They were evidently sailors, they had a sailboat where they came from, and Betty had very carefully told what the movers needed to send to Los Alamos and what needed to be put in storage. Well, it did not end up that way. She ended up in Los Alamos with a bunch of sailing equipment [Laughs]. A little bit awkward.

Kelly: That is funny. Do you remember the boys’ dorm? Was it called the Big House?

Lowry: The Big House, yes, and there was a cook who prepared our meals, Army-type. I must say the food was not particular inspiring, but it was okay.

The design of the housing was very satisfactory. When I got pregnant, I moved across a lane to a four-apartment, two-story building. We lived upstairs above the Lipkins. Dr. Lipkin, who was a chemist, lived downstairs with his wife, Shirley. Next door to us upstairs was “Diz” [Elizabeth] Graves, and I think her husband’s first name is Al, but I am not sure. Al Graves was one the fellows that got seriously burned in that radiation accident that occurred at Los Alamos. Do you know about that?

Kelly: That was with Louis Slotin?

Lowry: What was his name?

Kelly: Louis Slotin.

Lowry: Yes, well Al Graves got seriously burned, but he recovered from the exposure. He lost all his hair and everything, but he fortunately recovered. He was our close next-door neighbor in this four-apartment dwelling. The fourth family was the Jorgensens, I believe, and I think they were from Sweden. There were a great many people at Los Alamos that were from Europe.

Kelly: How did that work out?

Lowry: It worked out; they were all dedicated scientists and they all worked terribly hard. They took their job very, very seriously. It is amazing, we were at Los Alamos only three years, but to me, it seemed almost like thirty. We were all so intense at that time. And, of course, you know, at that stage in was in the war, and that was very strenuous. But, everybody worked extremely hard during that three-year period.

Kelly: Would that be six days a week?

Lowry: Well, actually five days a week, but if they needed to they would have meetings on the weekends and so on. On weekends, we could not do very much because of gas rationing. We went on picnics up to Valle Grande, which was a spectacular place to see, unbelievably beautiful. And, a lot of other people explored the nearby territory in New Mexico, explored the Indian ruins and went fishing. But we were fairly limited to doing much because of gas rationing.

We could get down to Santa Fe once a month on what we were allowed. We had a C rating. The other thing that was rationed, of course, was food. We got our food from a commissary, a military-run commissary. I remember we were privileged to a certain amount of Army-issue, non-rationed meat like canned bacon and C-grade beef. But sugar was rationed like everybody else at that time.

We all had jobs when we got there. I was assigned to the switchboard. [Laughs] I had to learn how to work the switchboard. That did not last very long, because someone came in who was a pro.

Then, I was assigned as the mail carrier and I had to be driven to Santa Fe twice a day. I was driven by a sixteen year-old boy and our bus was an old station wagon, one of those station wagons that had wooden sides, if you remember that particular model. That goes back. Driving down that hill on the narrow gravel or dirt road with lots of switchbacks and quite steep—it was slightly harrowing to do this trip to Santa Fe.

I had a briefcase padlocked to my belt for the confidential mail that I was to pick up. I had a bodyguard, who was a Spanish-American, and spoke very little English. He wore a gun around his waist on a belt and followed me to where I had to go to the post office and so on and was protecting me for who knows what. It was amusing, walking with—I think his name was Juan Lujan—walking with Juan in downtown Santa Fe because he had friends that were around in the streets. And, I remember his making comments to his friends and I could not understand what they were saying. Who knows what they were saying, but anyway, he was my bodyguard. And, that lasted until the military police finally arrived. The MPs then took over the mail carrying.

Mail was censored. All our mail went through the University of California, and we were limited to what we could say. We were not supposed to tell our parents where we were or our relations. We could not say where we were in our mail. We could not subscribe to magazines because they did not want a list of several scientists’ names appearing on the subscription list of magazines, all these magazines being sent to PO Box 1663, just for security reasons. So, that was a restriction. We also had driver’s licenses without our name on them. We just had a number on our driver’s license. And, of course, to get into Los Alamos, you had to go through a checkpoint and you had to have a badge. Then, to get into the tech area, you had to have another kind of clearance.

After I stopped being mailman, I got a job in the library at Los Alamos, and that was interesting. The library was set up by Charlotte Serber, and she did a fantastic job. She had to educate herself about the Library of Congress Dewey Decimal System about how books were catalogued and everything. The whole library was built up from scratch and she was responsible for that and really did a fantastic job. Her husband was a physicist.

Kelly: So, what kind of books were in the collection?

Lowry: Oh, there were scientific books. I remember a peculiar experience. I was typing up cards for the books to be catalogued, and I was trying to decipher the writing of the people who had requested this book. The expression “PU” kept appearing in the writing and description of the literature, and I, having had chemistry, did not remember any PU [laughs]. So I asked my husband what it was that afternoon, and he pointed out the fact that [laughs] he had been someone who had discovered plutonium and that is what is was. But, that was the first time I had heard about plutonium. Joe really believed in security, and not violating any of the rules concerning it. So, I had been kept in the dark about plutonium, until that instant.

Kelly: Was it a secret when he discovered it in Berkeley?

Lowry: Yeah. It was a secret at Berkeley.

Kelly: I guess that was before you were married he discovered it, before you knew him maybe.

Lowry: Yes, before I knew him. I was married in 1942, before I graduated from Cal. I did not get my degree; I was a junior, or I was an entering senior when we left for Los Alamos. And, I had to go back to school to get my degree. I got my degree at Wash U. After Joe died, I finished up so I could teach. And, so I graduated from Washington University in education.

Kelly: So, when you had your first child at Los Alamos, Wade, how did you manage to work and have a baby?

Lowry: I did not work. As soon as I was really pregnant, I stopped working and then I did not work after that. I stayed home and took care of the baby. There was another interesting anecdote about babies at Los Alamos. General Groves complained, so the story goes [laughs], to Oppenheimer: why didn’t he do something about these scientists, these young guys who keep having babies, because it is costing the federal government an awful lot of money. They are having so many babies that they have to keep increasing the size of the hospital [laughs]. Oppenheimer said that was not part of his domain [laughs].

Joe hired the doctors that came to Los Alamos. He hired them from Washington University, which is kind of an interesting coincidence. He hired three doctors. Jim Nolan was the obstetrician and Henry Barnett was the pediatrician and Louis Hempleman was the radiologist. Then the nurses also came from Wash U, Sarah, and I think the other one was named Petie, her nickname was Petie. But, I am not sure about that.

Sarah eventually ended up marrying one of the graduate students, René Prestwood, and he was from Berkeley. Petie ended up marrying the lawyer, who helped take care of the patent problem that the plutonium discoverers had to fool around with. You know, they had a patent on plutonium and they gave the patent to the government.

Kelly: So, the four discoverers, co-discoverers of plutonium gave the patent—

Lowry: Rights to the federal government. They figured that not much was going to be done with plutonium for a while, other than making bombs. And as a source of electric power, it would be far in the future, and it seemed appropriate that it was better that the government took care of it.

Kelly: But, that, in the end, or in 1955, the government reimbursed you.

Lowry: Yeah, that reimbursement I think sort of turned into the Fermi Award, and since that time other scientists have received a similar stipend like that, for doing outstanding work in science. I am not exactly sure about all that.

Kelly: So did you know Oppenheimer then?

Lowry: Yeah, and I met Fermi. Fermi was a very charming, friendly, personable individual. I remember him talking to me about that when I was a postman. I was wearing rancher’s pants and sweaters and stuff to fit into the seat. And, evidently, I was wearing a red sweater and Fermi said it remembered him of home in Italy. The postmen wear red sweaters [laughs]; that is the kind of charming guy he was.

Kelly: So, did you go around the community, door-to-door delivering the mail?

Lowry: No, it was taken to the post office in the tech area and delivered after that.

Kelly: That would run you ragged, if you had to go to Santa Fe and back twice a day and then deliver all that mail. That would be a lot.

Lowry: No, no.

Kelly: So, did the censors read the mail before they distributed it?

Lowry: I suspect the mail probably was censored again. I do not know and haven’t checked it out. I have no idea what took place about the entering mail.

Kelly: The mail—you had it in a suitcase with a lock around your wrist.

Lowry: No, it was just a briefcase and it was padlocked to my belt [laughs]. That was the top-secret stuff, the confidential stuff. The regular mail was just in a big bag, a regular mail bag.

Kelly: So, did the post office in Santa Fe ever give you funny looks?

Lowry: No, no.

Kelly: You think they knew what was going on the Hill?

Lowry: They had no idea, supposedly, about what was going on up on the hill. Obviously, there was a great deal of construction and Dorothy McKibbin was running an office there in Santa Fe. She was a fantastic woman. She was a Santa Fean and she greeted everybody who was coming from all over everywhere when they first got there, and told them where they were supposed to go and how to get there. So, she was really the first contact to the Los Alamos project. She was an extremely good woman and everybody liked Dorothy McKibbin. She ran a good office. But the Santa Feans could not help but know that, you know, something was going on because it was a big construction project.

Kelly: So, on your days off when you went to Santa Fe, I mean once a month, what did you do?

Lowry: Well, into Santa Fe, we saved up our requirements. I remember having to buy diapers, for goodness sakes, and they were scarce. My mother ended up sending me diapers from Berkeley. She was living in Berkeley, in California, and the diapers were in short supply in Santa Fe. We bought household things that we needed.

The business of liquor was interesting [laughs]. Joe had to go to Chicago often, to the Fermi lab. When he was in Chicago, he would go to a liquor store and try to buy Scotch because you could not get any of that at Los Alamos. But, in order to buy a bottle of Scotch, you had to buy a bottle of liqueur, or else they would not sell it to you. So, Joe would come home with a bottle of ghastly liqueur and a bottle of Scotch or a bottle of Bourbon. You could get beer at Los Alamos, but you could not get anything else.

Santa Fe was in very short supply of alcohol. That sounds like we were heavy drinkers, we were not. The only time we had anything to drink was when we had friends over at night on a weekend. And we mixed up this ghastly drink to get rid of the liqueur, and I think the liqueur was Sangria. Do you know what Sangria is? It is very sweet, and we mixed that with maraschino cherries and a slice of orange to make it palatable. Anyway, that was our drink.

And, for entertainment, we often played poker on a weekend. You know, really we were limited to what we could do. So, we had a foursome of poker, Art and Mary joined us, and I think two graduate students and Joe and I played poker and drank this ghastly drink.

Kelly: So, you played right along with the men?

Lowry: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly: And, other wives did too?

Lowry: Yeah, Mary was a wicked poker player [laughs]. They had a movie theater there on the hill and it was marvelous. It would cost us ten cents to go see a movie and the movies changed often. They showed a movie and a [inaudible] news, and we went into this big building and sat on benches and that was a common entertainment for everybody there.

They also had some horses left over from the boy’s school, which was Los Alamos before we got there, for a while. They had horses for a short while and we experimented horseback riding in the country. Oppenheimer was a great horseman because he had been in New Mexico and in the Los Alamos area growing up as a young boy, he and his brother, Frank. That is how the Los Alamos site was chosen, because it was an area that Oppenheimer was familiar with.

Kelly: So, do you think he made a good choice?

Lowry: Oh yes, it was spectacularly beautiful. We were up at 7,000 feet on these mesas overlooking the valley, and across the valley on the other side was the Sangre De Cristo mountain range, which was beautiful. The Truchas was a 14,000-foot peak, and Lake Peak was 10,000. That was another thing that some of the scientists used to like to do—they used to like to hike those mountains, and I even went up Lake Peak, which was 10,000 feet. I was persuaded to go one Saturday by my neighbor, Betty English. So, there were four of us who hiked Lake Peak. That was quite an experience.

Kelly: To go to Taos.

Lowry: I did not go to Taos; that was too far and not enough gas. I have been to Taos many times since, because I have a log cabin in Colorado and Taos is only ninety miles away. So, it is very convenient to go to Taos and have some fun.

Kelly: So, did you ever go to the teahouse at Otowi Bridge?

Lowry: Oh, you mean Edith Warner’s house? Yes, Joe and I were invited by Oppie to have dinner there a couple of times. And, she provided a fabulous meal, gosh! She was famous for her chocolate cake, and I think a lot of us left Los Alamos with her recipe on how to make Edith Werner’s chocolate cake. That was a fun experience to go there.

I remember another place we went to, but I think it must have after the war was over. Joe went back to Los Alamos for a consulting project in the summer, and there was a place called the Black Swan Ranch. I do not know whether it still belongs to the owner. It was sold for some other purposes. But, it was a restaurant—a private home, a private ranch, converted to a restaurant and it had a French cook. And, the ranch itself was really charming, quite beautiful. We sat out on a terrace to have our drinks and had dinner in this Spanish, adobe-style home.

We went up to the Valles Grande several times on picnics. I remember once going up there, the Lipkins were with us and their dog, Tito, which was an Irish setter. Wade was just a tiny baby. The four of us headed up to the Valles Grande for a picnic, and we got up there just before and then we were in the forest amongst the pine trees and so on. A great bolt of lightning hit there, beside the road, and out of the woods appeared a whole family of, I guess, Indians, absolutely petrified. And, we were driving a two-door Ford sedan, and there were already four of us in the car [laughs]. And we piled four more Indians, at least four in the car, and took them over the ridge down into their valley on the other side of the Jemez and to their reservation.

We were always getting storms at Los Alamos. It was really vulnerable. I had never experienced lightning like that before. And, in the summer time, a big storm would come at noon, and you could almost set your watch by the first bolt of lightning, and the lightning crashed around all over the place. It would last about ten minutes and then it rained and poured and then it was gone, and that was it. But, it was scary. [Laughs]

Kelly: Did Joe go to the Trinity test?

Lowry: To Alamogordo? Yes. I did not go, of course. Only a certain number of scientists were allowed to go. I cannot remember at what mile limit Joe was allowed, was placed. I think he was placed at the ten-mile limit, but there was another group were placed at the five-mile limit. And, they were handed dark, dark, dark glasses to use to look at the bomb when it went off. It was way too bright to look directly at it. As a matter of fact, they were told to turn their backs to site when it was going to go off.

I do not remember who was in Joe’s group. A lot of wives found out what was going on, but my being the wife of Joe, he never said anything [laughs] about what was going on. But, I know that everybody was leaving, and that there was a big secret hoopty-do rowdy-dow going on. And, a lot of people went down, their wives went down and spent the night on—I cannot remember the name of the mountain. It is outside of Albuquerque. They spent the night up there and they could see the explosion from the mountain. But a lot of wives, as I said, were told what was going on, but I was not [laughs]. Joe, he could not tell me.

I learned about the atomic bomb explosion when I went home to Berkeley in August. When was the bomb dropped? I do not remember.

Kelly: Sixth and the ninth of August.

Lowry: Sixth and the ninth of August. Okay, I was in Berkeley, visiting my parents, and of course it hit the newspaper, and that is when I found out actually what had been going on all that time.

Kelly: Did you just read the headline and instantly know?

Lowry: Yeah, in the San Francisco Chronicle. [Laughs]

Kelly: So, what was your conversation with Joe? Do you remember that?

Lowry: No, there was no big deal about that. There was a big deal about having dropped the bomb later. Oppenheimer was very upset about the horribleness of the bomb and was very concerned that the United States understood what had been created. He wanted to be sure to inform our country and the world just what had taken place, and that it had to be the last time the bomb was ever used. He was very much concerned about that. He lectured on that, trying to make it known that that should be the last time the bomb was ever to be used.

Of course, the big problem over it was with Teller. Teller, during the period at Los Alamos, did not want to make an atomic bomb, he wanted to make a hydrogen bomb, and he was very angry that Oppenheimer did not go in that direction. And, if you read the history and everything, Teller proceeded to be a very angry, selfish man. He was a Hungarian and caused Oppenheimer to be convicted of being an unsafe individual and should not be allowed to be exposed to any more secret information.

Joe testified on behalf of Oppenheimer in Washington. I do not know who else testified. Joe was a very good legal eagle. He was very, very well informed about the law, because when he was a graduate student at Lawrence, Kansas to get his Master’s, he roomed with law students and picked up a lot of legal knowledge. He played a very important role when the plutonium patents were given up to the federal government. He was a very good friend, it was a lawyer, and I cannot remember his name.

I cannot remember the name of the lawyer, but he was a good friend of Joe’s and he later married Petie, the nurse. He was a very pleasant lawyer, evidently, Joe like him very much. But Teller was a very difficult fellow on the Hill, and a good friend of his, Hans Bethe, who was also a Hungarian, they used to be very good friends. But when this occasion occurred and Teller turned on Oppenheimer and Oppenheimer lost his ability to be cleared, Hans no longer was a friend of Teller’s.

Hans Bethe was a terribly nice fellow. He got a Nobel Prize for discovering what went on inside the sun, the hydrogen cycle that keeps the sun going, that is what he got his Nobel Prize on. I am sure Rose [Bethe] had a terribly tough job being housing distributor. I am sure a lot of wives complained about where they were assigned a house, etc., etc. I am sure she had a miserable job, but she survived.

I am sure there are many more things that I could remember [laughs]. When we left Los Alamos, it was a real tough problem. It was like catch-22. It was set up so you could not leave Los Alamos until you had given up the Army issue furniture that you were using in the apartment house, but you couldn’t give up the furniture until you had a place to live. Well, Joe was having a terrible time trying to get away from Los Alamos. We were headed to Texas to visit his family in Nacogdoches, and we ran out of water at that time. The pipes froze and we had no water and the water was trucked in by tanker. Oh, gosh, it was rough! I had diapers to wash and it was a water shortage, [laughs] it was difficult. But, anyway, we signed into the Bishop’s Lodge that first night, and then took off for Nacogdoches.

Sometimes the cooking at Los Alamos was difficult. At 7,000 feet, you have to cook everything a half-hour longer at that altitude. And our cooking equipment was really a problem. We had what we call black beauty stoves. They were great big, old-fashioned, iron, black wood-burning stoves. We also had a hot plate, a two-burner hot plate. The Army thought that they could solve the wood burning part, and they installed aspirating kerosene, I guess, or some sort of a burner [laughs] to make a fire to heat up the oven. And Charlotte Serber was the person who was exposed to the first demonstration. It was frightening! None of us were about to use this aspirating, kerosene-burning contraption that the Army was going to install on the black beauties.

There came a time when we were rationed for electricity and we were allowed a half-hour of electricity in the evening to cook our dinner. Well, you cannot cook potatoes in half an hour at that altitude. So, it was awkward. I remember Mary got from her family a pressure cooker, and that was a big help. We used a pressure cooker and so I immediately wrote my mother, “Can you find me a pressure cooker?” And, she got me one in Berkeley, second-hand [laughs]; you could not get one new. But that was a big help.

Kelly: Did you have reading lights? I mean, if you had a half-hour of electricity to cook the dinner, then after that, you just had candlelight, or what happened?

Lowry: I do not remember, Cindy. We must have had electricity again, but we all went to bed [laughs] after a hard day’s work. Nobody stayed up very late. I do not really remember. They had a hard time with the heating. There were furnace roofs in each one of these Army-built buildings that we were living in, and the Spanish-American guys were hired to stoke the furnace. And there were some incidences where they stoked them too hot, just so they did not have to come back so soon, and they set the furnace room on fire. That was exciting. I remember the furnace room; they would bring in the coal and the soot used to pour out of the ventilators in your apartment house.

We had Indian women coming up from the Pueblos to clean our house. They were very charming and very pleasant. I remember the one that I had brought me a gift of one of Maria’s [Montoya Martinez] vases from San Ildefonso, and I was not with it to really appreciate the value of the vase. It got broken one evening when I accidentally knocked it off the coffee table and broke. I was not sensitive to Indian art and Indian crafts, and so on, until after I had left Los Alamos, and went back. I then learned to appreciate the Indian art.

Coming from California, the Indians of California were not as artistically inclined as the Pueblo Indians. I do not remember any pottery or jewelry coming out of the Indians of California. I am sure they made some, but I was not impressed and did not appreciate at all the beauty of their rugs and the beauty of their turquoise jewelry and so on until after the fact.

Kelly: Did you have a chance to see any Pueblo dances?

Lowry: Yes, I went to an early dance at the San Ildefonso Pueblo, I believe it was the corn dance. And, I had a wonderful photograph of Priscilla Duffield and me at this Pueblo dance, but I cannot find it. Priscilla was Oppie’s secretary; a fantastic gal, she was good. And, I saw Priscilla long after the war. I probably have a photograph of her in my album. It is about my cabin in Colorado. She came out to look at where our cabin is and visited. She married Bob Duffield during the war. Bob Duffield was a graduate student, I guess. I do not know whether he had a PhD by then or not, at Berkeley. I remember meeting him there. I met a lot of these people. I met Art and I met Dave Lipkin and I met Duffield; I met some of these people at Berkeley before I was married and before I got to Los Alamos. I met them when I was dating Joe.

Kelly: So, there were a great number of people then that migrated from Berkeley to Los Alamos.

Lowry: Yes, a great many, but there were a great many foreigners. We had a Russian physicist gal. She was a White Russian. We had a fellow who shared responsibility for chemistry in the tech area who was a metallurgist—he was from England, Cyril Smith. His wife was a very able gal who helped establish the high school there at Los Alamos. You know, a lot of these scientists had children and they had to set up a school. She was a good deal responsible for getting that school started. I think she taught English Lit. Afterwards, she was editor of the Atomic Bulletin. Alice Smith was her name. They were from England, but there were Germans and Italians and Swedes—there were a great variety of people at Los Alamos.

Kelly: I guess you had a number that were part of the so-called British mission, like 19 sort of experimental physicists who came over under James Chadwick.

Lowry: I don’t know. Hans Bethe, for instance, went to Cornell. I remember Segré had a hard time getting a decent job. He came from a very well-to-do family in Italy. He had been working with Fermi at Palermo, the University of Palermo in Sicily, and had done some important work then with Fermi. His wife was German, Freda. And, he tried to take some money out of Europe for his inheritance and everything. At that time, the English could not take more than something like $200 out of England at that time. It was just dreadful. They had no resources whatsoever. Segré bought a Leica camera and he invested in some raw diamonds and got those into the United States as a resource. But, he had a hard time getting a job. He was given a lectureship, for heaven’s sakes, and then finally got to Berkeley. I do not know what his position was at Berkeley, I have no idea.

The salaries the people got was the same as what they had been earning before they got to Los Alamos. Some of the scientists came as professors, but somebody like Joe came as an instructor and his salary was not quite big enough. He was asked all the time to go to Chicago or on these trips. He was given an allowance, which was a standard allowance for anybody traveling for the government at that time. I think it was ten dollars a day. It did not quite cover his expenses when he had to go to Chicago. So, I remember we always had to go into debt a little bit every time he came back from one of those trips.

But the living expenses were very low. I mean everything was Army issue. I do not remember what the rent was, but it was very low. I must say that the apartments were very well designed. They were very comfortable. When Wade was born, we had two bedrooms. There was a fireplace. The kitchen was quite a good size and there was a little breakfast nook off the kitchen. The apartments were very well thought out.

The Lipkins living below us at Los Alamos was a big help to me because I was just twenty—I was twenty-two when Wade was born. Joe would have to go to Chicago or to Oak Ridge or Hanford or wherever, but usually to Chicago. I was very lonely and the Lipkins were extraordinarily friendly and neighborly and warm-hearted and made sure I was okay during these absences. As a matter of fact, when I knew that Wade was going to be born, I was in labor, Joe was in Chicago. And Dave Lipkin walked me to the hospital early in the morning [laughs].

Kelly: So, you walked to hospital.

Lowry: Oh, we walked to the hospital. It was not very far away. Our other nearby neighbor was Captain [Deak] Parsons, you know, Captain Parsons. He was a representative of the Navy there at Los Alamos, and he was given one of the original houses to live in. He lived very close to where we were. There were a few row houses that were the envy of everybody [laughs], but they were only about three of them or something. You know, they were the houses the professors of the boys’ school, and it was called Bathtub Row. Have you heard this? [Laughs] Because, they had bathtubs.

Kelly: Tell us about how you came to St. Louis.

Lowry: Well, Compton took the job of chancellor of Washington University when the war was over. Compton was in Chicago and he was kind of a liaison guy during the war. He toured around between the three sites, coordinating efforts and stuff. Anyway, he took this job at Wash U hoping—he had gotten his Nobel Prize when he was at Washington U, I think. He had done the work there, but of that I am not positive. He worked on cosmic rays. I do not remember whether that is where he did the work or not, I am not sure.

Anyway, he had a vision of Wash U becoming a good Midwest university that St. Louis could afford it and it was in a good location. The United States could use a good university in St. Louis. So, he felt that was quite a challenge and he asked Joe if Joe would come and start up a chemistry department. The fellow who was the head of the chemistry department was what you call a beer chemist. He was supported by Anheuser Busch and was much more interested in beer, I think [laughs]. Anyway, he was ready to retire. So, Compton persuaded Joe and this other fellow that worked with Compton. Joe brought the books that Joe was author of.

Kelly: This book?

Lowry: Not that, no. The chemistry book. The first issue was dedicated to this guy; he was a wonderful fellow. Look in the frontispiece and you will see the dedication. Joyce Stearns. He was from Colorado. Joe became very fond of Joyce Stearns. He died soon after of cancer.

Anyway, Joe was challenged. He had been offered an awful lot of jobs when the war was over. He was offered a job at Harvard and he went to visit one of the departments of chemistry and he came home and he said, “Adrienne, you would not like Harvard” [laughs]. He was also offered a job with Monsanto, he was offered a job at Stanford, he was offered a job all over everywhere. But, he was challenged by the Wash U deal, and he was able to persuade a lot of these other Los Alamos guys that were with him to come to St. Louis, too.

So, he started up with a very good department of really able fellows who were equally excited about establishing a good chemistry department. There were all able [scientists]. Sam Weisman was a very bright guy who worked with the mass spectrograph. David [Lipkin] was an organic chemist, did some good work. Lindsay Helmholz came from Dartmouth and he was a physical chemist. Art Wahl took over the radiochemistry and the nuclear chemistry and Monsanto offered to build a little nuclear lab on the campus, which was the first expansion building that Wash U had. Monsanto was responsible for that.

Charlie Thomas, who was head of Monsanto, was from St. Louis. He wanted Joe to take over the Dayton plant, but Joe was not about to do that. Joe wanted to stay academic. Anyway, Charlie Thomas saw to it that this nuclear lab was constructed and that is where Art hung out during his stay as a professor at Wash U. That was his hangout.

Joe was promised a new building. The campus had a building that was built in 1904, during the World’s Fair in St. Louis. In fact, Wash U was built during that period of the World’s Fair, the main building, Brookings. Busch Hall was built then. Anyway, Joe was promised a building and he had not been there too long before they got enough money to construct Louderman Hall, and it was needed badly. So, that was great.

Oh, Washington U has changed tremendously. It has expanded like you cannot believe. You cannot believe what has gone up on that campus. Every square inch now, practically, has been built upon with a new law school and a fabulous building that has to do with promoting the use of computers and things has been constructed. It has expanded in the most remarkable way. So has the medical school. I am sure the medical school has doubled in size.

Kelly: So what now? Obviously, he had a brilliant career as a professor.

Lowry: Yes, he loved being a professor. He was a bit of a ham, he was a very good speaker, and very funny. He had a Texas sense of humor, a good storyteller [laughs]. He taught freshmen chemistry and also had a graduate class in nuclear chemistry. But he really enjoyed teaching. He had a fabulous sense of humor [laughs]. Typical Texan, his exaggeration. He always said his stories were true [laughs].

The town of Nacogdoches was tiny, and they now have a building named after him. It is at Stephen F. Austin State Teachers’ School. That is where he graduated from college. He graduated in three years and went to Lawrence, Kansas, and then to Berkeley. He got his PhD at Berkeley.

Kelly: So, what was the difference in your ages?

Lowry: Five years, four years. I was twenty and I guess he was twenty-four when we were married. We were married in 1942—no, we were married when he was twenty-five.

Kelly: I guess during World War II there were a lot of people getting married very young. 

Lowry: Yes.

Kelly: Did you get married in California?

Lowry: Yeah, at home in Santa Barbara. It was strictly a wartime arrangement, just my older sister, who was married to a physiologist at Berkeley. They were able to come. His name was Smith, Bob Smith. He was in the Navy, an ensign, and was working at Cal for the Navy doing something entirely different from what he was studying for his PhD. He got his PhD under the auspices of the government. I do not remember whether he got it at Cal, I think he did, but it is an entirely different subject from what he had been studying. He was studying Triturus torosus, which is a kind of salamander that is very rare and occurs in the Berkeley hills. He had been studying this salamander for some time, writing his research. That was dropped entirely when he enlisted in the Navy, and he proceeded to study, I do not know what, when he was in the Navy.

Barbara—my sister—worked in the radiation lab. She first worked for an obstetrician in the zoology department, but then she was sent up to the radiation lab, where she worked on a project there and was doing secret work. And then I guess Smith must have been transferred to NIH. Anyway, they ended up in Maryland at NIH working there during the war.

Kelly: What have you thought about your role in developing the atomic bomb?

Lowry: What?

Kelly: Did Joe talk about or write his thoughts about having been part of developing the atomic bomb?

Lowry: Yeah. Well, all those guys at Los Alamos talked about that. The project was so important and they were so anxious to solve the problem. And believe me those Europeans were super anxious, because they thought they knew that the Germans were working on it, too. But, it turns out that they were not. But anyway, they felt it was imminent and that they had to get this project solved. They just worked ever so hard. They just dedicated themselves really to the project. Afterwards, they were overwhelmed by the result.

I think there is a chapter in Joe’s book about peaceful uses of atomic energy, trying to think of what they could do with this terrible thing that they had let loose and how they could possibly control it. There were a lot of discussions and a lot of complaints. Why did you drop two bombs? I asked Art Wahl that question, and he said it was because they thought the Japanese would not believe they had more than one bomb. That is why they dropped the second bomb.

The bombs did not cause as much damage in Japan as the fire destruction of Tokyo, for instance, in the big cities. The firebombs killed many, many more people than the atomic bomb. Other people do not realize this. Well, I mean, the whole thing was horrible, no excuses or anything. A group of scientists were formed that were opposed to the atomic energy bomb and they wrote and campaigned and lectured and stuff against it. There was a lot of discussion in that way, and as I said, Oppie himself was highly distressed and wanted to get the word out that there had to be a control.

The United Nations was formulated in San Francisco at one of those meetings in an effort to try to have some control over this. Joe was on the scientific advisory board of Eisenhower when he was at Wash U. The scientific advisory board—that was all secret stuff. But, General Doolittle was on the board and the guy who was head of MIT, Wilson? I am not sure; Wilson was on this board. And [Edwin] Land, the guy who invented Polaroid Land cameras, was on the board.

I have sorted of exhausted my memory. [Gerhart] Friedlander was at Los Alamos during the war—terribly nice fellow. He was in the chemistry group. He and his father escaped Europe before the Nazis did such terrible things in Germany. His father had sense enough to get out of Germany and he went to England. Then Friedlander came to the United States and he ended up at Berkeley as a chemist and then went to Los Alamos. I do not remember him at Los Alamos, I do not know where he went. He went to Brookhaven afterwards, terribly nice guy. Anyway, they wrote the book together.

Kelly: Joe died of cancer?

Lowry: Yes, yes, he died of the same cancer that his mother had. It was cancer of the stomach and he said, “It did not have anything to do with the fact that I was working with something radioactive.” He wanted to be sure and understand that. It was a genetic thing. His mother had the same kind of cancer, carcinoma of the stomach. And, it was a terrible tragedy.

Kelly: He was forty years old.

Lowry: He had not quite had his fortieth birthday. He was just about to have his fortieth birthday, had not quite had it yet. So, he was still thirty-nine.

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