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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Lynn McCardell

Manhattan Project Locations:

Janet Lynn McCardell grew up in Idaho Falls, and began working as a secretary at the Special Nuclear Reactor Test area. She discusses typing up reports, first on typewriters and decades later on computers. She also explains what women were required to wear, and how for many years women who became pregnant were immediately terminated.

Date of Interview:
September 15, 2004


Cindy: Very simple question to start with, which is to tell me your name and to spell it.

Janet:   My name is Janet Lynn McCardell, and it’s J-a-n-e-t L-y-n-n M-c-C-a-r-d-e-l-l.

Cindy: Great. And, you should look at me.

Janet:   Okay.

Cindy: Don’t worry about what, don’t look at the camera.

Janet:   All righty.

Cindy: What we just have you here for is to tell us about what you did at the site. Start with where you’re from and when you started working in the site and what your job was. Then we’ll get into any funny stories, any, whatever. Let’s start with where you’re from and how you happened to come to the site and when was that.

Janet: Okay. I’m from Idaho. I’m from Idaho Falls. I was raised within two or three hundred miles of this surrounding area. I started at the site in September of 1961. I went to work at the SPERT area, and that was Special Excursion Reactor Tests, and they had four facilities – four reactors – in that area that they were doing various kinds of testing. It was in that time that I was working for the nuclear test section, and that was generally the operators that were in the control rooms.

At that period, I met my husband when I was working at SPERT.

Cindy: What were you doing for them?

Janet: I was a secretary. I started just as a secretary to a large group of people. We would prepare the memos and some of the reports, and there were forms. In those days, when we were working, we were working on manual typewriters with multitudes of carbon copies.

Cindy: Were you an accurate typist?

Janet: You had to be. You had to try to be. It was difficult because we didn’t have all the technology that we have today, so the work was a little more tedious. There wasn’t the kind of copying machines that’s available today to support the stenographic work and that type of thing. But I worked in kind of a large area with several other ladies there.

I worked at the SPERT facility until I was married, and then when my husband was employed there as well, at that time, they didn’t want husband and wife to be working in very close proximity. They transferred me in about 1969, something like that. I was transferred to an area called TAN, Test Area North. That is the area where they did build LOFT and test LOFT. At that time, I started working for a manager, and that was when they were doing the conceptual designs for LOFT.

Cindy: Tell me about what you wore.

Janet:   Oh.

Cindy: What did you have to wear?

Janet:   Okay. Well…

Cindy: And, remember, no one can hear my question.

Janet:   Okay.

Cindy: So, you have to start with, you know, we were required to wear, or something like that.

Janet: Okay. In 1961, when I started working at the NRTS, we were required to wear a dress and hose, and it was to be just a modest business dress. There was no slacks or anything like that allowed. Of course, we were all commuting and riding on the bus. There was no one [00:24:00] working in the Idaho Falls area – save just a very few higher-level management kinds of personnel. That continued well into, oh, I think it was into the ‘70s.

Then they became lenient enough that they would let us wear a nice, like a pantsuit. We called them pantsuits back then. We could wear them on maybe Fridays. Then slowly, you know, the dress codes and all those kinds of norms kind of went away. You could wear your more casual clothes. In the latter years that I worked, there was a lot of us that wore jeans. Always on Friday, generally, that was your jean day as a rule.

For women – I don’t believe that this applied necessarily to the women in the technical fields, but there wasn’t very many women in the technical fields when I first went to work – they had really strict rules about women that became pregnant. If you were a young woman and you became pregnant on the job, and they knew that you were pregnant, they terminated you immediately.

Cindy: Married or unmarried?

Janet:   Either way. That was just the rule. You just could not be pregnant and be employed at the site. Perhaps they were worried, I don’t know, about the radiation or – I just don’t know. They really didn’t ever have us in any kind of areas where we were going to receive any kind of high doses, but that was just one of the rules that the government had at that time. Over a period of time. I have to say, I think that that was like that for about the first 15 years I worked there. Again, it wasn’t until into the ‘70s – and maybe early ‘80s – that they began to relax some on those kinds of points. As they had more offices available in town and more people began to work here in Idaho Falls, that became much easier for women that were expecting to work in those offices at that time.

Over the course of the years that I worked, I really saw technology change a great deal. We started out on manual typewriters, and from manual typewriters, we went to selectic typewriters, where you had the little element that you interchanged. We developed a lot of reports with the help of the technical people reading what they were producing, or what they were writing. We would type them up and, using these elements, cut and paste. Then at that time, there was better copying machines, and we could copy. Then from that [00:27:00] technology in the ‘80s – the early ‘80s – we started using computers. We started out with IBM computers with the multi-mate programs. Then from there, we went to Word Perfect, on to Compaq computers. From Compaq computers, then we finally went to the Dells with the Word and the Microsoft Office.

Through all of this, we’ve had all the things. The email, even, and the ability just to communicate and share information is just so improved from what it was in the earlier times. I’m just not talking about information just within, but internationally being able to share information a lot more.

The experience was really good, and I really have worked for some fine people. Even as a lay person, you really felt part of what was going on and really committed to trying to help and do your part and be there and do the best work you could.

Cindy: Was it a hardship to ride that bus out?

Janet:   It was, well, I was younger.

Cindy: Start with…

Janet:   Yeah. Okay. The bus ride wasn’t a great inconvenience when I was younger, but then everybody was riding the bus at that time. Then when they finally, in the ‘80s, opened the computer center – it was one of the office areas that was housing the larger computers that supported the site – they let some of us come into town, and once you got a taste of working in town, it was just so much easier on you. Over the course of the years, I have to say, there was a lot of organization changes, so you could be in town sometimes. I was in town for like 10 years, and then I had to go back out to the site. I was out at the site again for about five or six years.

Working at the site wasn’t bad because the people were always great out there and the office areas weren’t bad. It was just the long days and the commute. I was working out at the TAN area when they went to the 10-hour days, and, I have to say, I was old enough then that after having done that three or four years, I quite seriously looked for a job where I was in town. My husband was starting to have some health problems, and it was beginning to be difficult. In the winter months, it was difficult. You’d come off the bus quite late at night, and if the weather was bad or it was blowing, that was a hassle. I had to drive five or six miles then to come to the site where I would get onto the bus and commute out to desert.

It isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot of people that really do like the 10-hour days and then having their Fridays off. But it is a very, very long day. It’s a 12-hour day. Well, it’s telling. Now the work schedule they have where you work the nine 80s. Where you can work every other Friday. That’s way nice in town. That’s very nice. That’s a wonderful work schedule.

Cindy: What about, you say…

[End of audio]

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