On February 28, 2019, Manhattan Project veteran Esther Green Floth passed away in Dublin, California at 96 years old. As a young woman, Floth was a secretary for General Leslie Groves in Washington, D.C.
Floth was born in Watkins Glen, New York on June 9, 1922. She spent her childhood helping her parents at their grocery store in Burdett, NY. After graduating high school, Floth attended Strayer Business College in Washington, D.C., where she studied to become a secretary. Floth described herself as an introvert but gained more self-confidence after joining the Alpha Iota International Honorary Business Sorority . “The sorority did wonders for me and completely changed my life. I would never, ever have ended up in General Groves’s office if it wasn’t for them, because they really pulled me out of all this,” Floth recalled in a 2016 interview.
During World War II, Floth was hired by General Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project. Once she obtained top secret clearance, Floth joined Groves and his administrative assistant, Jean O’Leary, in a two-room office at the New War Department Building at 21st Street and Virginia Avenue NW. Floth met notable scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, Edward Teller, and Niels Bohr over the course of her employment. She reflected fondly on visits from “Oppie” in her interview. “When he used to come in the office, if I did something for him, he would bring me candy or flowers. He was such a sweet man.”
Despite her proximity to General Groves, Floth was unaware of the intentions of Manhattan Project, only that the utmost secrecy was required. “If you or anybody else had walked over to my desk, everything had to be turned over, because you did not know what the person next to you did at all. I knew it was something very important, but they never told us. Each person had just a certain part that they did.”
At the conclusion of the war, Floth took a position with the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project in Fairbanks, Alaska. Upon her return in 1951, she relocated to San Francisco to work for the manager of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), remaining there until she married Edward Floth in 1953. Floth and her husband moved to Dublin, California, where they both found positions with the AEC at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
Floth and her husband were married for 62 years before his passing on February 15, 2016. They are survived by no children, save for the countless dogs they rescued over the years.
For more information about Esther Green Floth and her involvement with the Manhattan Project, watch her interview on the Voices of the Manhattan Project website. You can view her photographs and letters on her profile.