Atomic Heritage Foundation

In partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Ruth Marshak

Ruth Marshak was an American teacher and the wife of physicist Robert Marshak.

Marshak was born in 1916. She received a degree in education from Buffalo State Teacher’s College and was a lifelong educator.

In 1943, Marshak went with her husband Robert to Los Alamos where he worked on the Manhattan Project in theoretical physics. She recalled feeling “akin to the pioneer women accompanying their husbands across the uncharted plains westward, alert to danger, resigned to the fact they journeyed, for weal or for woe, into the Unknown.”

At Los Alamos, Marshak worked in the Housing Office and taught third grade at Site Y’s Central School, a little green schoolhouse that was expensive to build and newly constructed especially for the town. It included both an elementary and a high school section, and primarily recruited teachers from the women already in Los Alamos. Marshak noted that teaching proved difficult because of inconsistent changes in school administration, and thus a teacher could “during the spring semester … find herself a conservative instructor of the fundamentals, while in the fall, she might teach under the most avant-garde methods of progressive education.” She also recalled, “We teachers worked under difficulties. When an experimental blast in a nearby canyon would rock the school to its expensive foundation, there would be a frightened silence in the classroom, and then we would begin again on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”

After the war, the Marshaks moved to Rochester, where Robert taught at the University of Rochester before later becoming President of the City College of New York. Ruth Marshak continued her teaching, and would go on to receive a Master of Arts in remedial reading and work at a child development program in Harlem.

Soon after leaving Los Alamos, Robert Marshak received a request from a publisher for a human-interest story from the secret city. He gave the project to Ruth, who organized a group of women to write a work of short stories, including one by Marshak herself, “Secret City.” The collection would eventually become the book, Standing by and Making Do: Women of Wartime Los Alamos. Although it was written in 1946, it was rejected by a series of publishers before finally being published by the Los Alamos Historical Society in 1987.

Ruth Marshak died on April 12, 1996 in Champaign, Illinois.

Ruth Marshak's Timeline

  • 1916 Born.
  • 1943 to 1946 Lived and taught elementary school at Los Alamos.
  • 1996 Apr 12th Died in Champaign, Illinois.

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