Phoebe Smith

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Pheobe Smith worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1940s.[1] limited information on Pheobe's involvement at Oak Ridge exists. However, some insight to what work Phoebe may have done at Oak Ridge can be gained through her childhood friend, Wynona Arrington Butner, whom she recruited to come work at Oak Ridge.[2] In an interview, Wynona reveals that Phoebe wrote to Wynona from Oak Ridge, promoting it as a "good place to work" and said that she "made good money."[2] Following Pheobe's advice, Wynona got a job at Oak Ridge in 1944. Phoebe and Wynona lived together as roommates in the Oak Ridge dormitories. Wynona worked at the Y-12 plant as a cauldron operator where she separated Uranium-238 from Uranium-235. She talks about how the magnets in the building were so strong that they would pull bobby pins out of your hair.[2] Wynona also talks about other jobs at Oak Ridge, including welding and sewing. Wynona highlights that "some of the best welders [at Oak Ridge] were women."[2]  Wynona also makes a point to highlight that occupations at Oak Ridge were extremely segregated. She notes that "not one black person when I was there worked in any capacity other than janitor or maid or cook. It bothered me that the black people had such menial jobs."[2]  Wynona is one of the famous "Cauldron Girls" of Oak Ridge, working to monitor control panels and adjust dials as needed.[2][3] There were 1,152 cauldrons at Oak Ridge, mainly monitored by women, which separated U-235 for the "Little Boy" bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.[4] Workers of Oak Ridge were forbidden from discussing their work with anyone to keep the work secret. They were not told that they were working on creating a nuclear weapon and found out the implications of their work only after the bombs were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[3] 

[1]  Leonard Carson Lambert and Michael Lambert, "Up From These Hills: Memories of a Cherokee Boyhood," University of Nebraska Press (2011).

[2]  D. Ray Smith, "Wynona Arrington Butner - Cauldron Girl," OakRidger (2016),….

[3]  D. Ray Smith, "Who Were the Cauldron Girls of Oak Ridge," Explore Oak Ridge,

[4]  Nancy Henderson, "Girl Power, Circa 1940: Building The Bomb (and Not Knowing It) in East Tennessee," Blue Ridge County (2020),….