When about 45,000 construction workers mowved to South Carolina to build what would become Savannah River Site, they weren’t men alone.
A lesser-known history of SRS’ effects on women during the Cold War era will be discussed Tuesday. Dr. Kari Frederickson, the author of Cold War Dixie: Militarization and Modernization in the American South, is the keynote speaker at The Pickens-Salley Symposium on Southern Women.
Men predominantly influenced foreign policy and militarization spheres in the mid-20th century, but women were also affected by the nation’s changing social, cultural and political domains during the Cold War, said Frederickson, an associate history professor at the University of Alabama.
In the Aiken and North Augusta areas, women braced for change as they grew accustomed to new lifestyles. Many were displaced from large cities, finding the rural South lacked sufficient modern housing. Barracks-style housing had been built near Barnwell, S.C., to house single men working on the massive construction project.
“As people flooded into the region, (leaders) operated under the assumption that they would all be single men,” Frederickson said. “A huge percentage of those men came with their families.”
Few women worked at what was known then as Savannah River Plant, although the NAACP pushed to train black women as secretaries and office workers, Frederickson said. Women who stayed at home tried to create a sense of community, writing newspaper columns and forming social clubs.
“They had to work to make themselves feel as much at home as possible,” she said.
Wives of workers weren’t the only women who flocked to the area. Frederickson said a prostitution ring operated near the plant catering to the influx of single men during the area’s population boom.
The Cold War’s corporate culture encouraged the plant’s families to support the nation’s economy and promote ideals of capitalism, Frederickson said. The DuPont Co., which built the site with the Atomic Energy Commission, wanted its families to purchase televisions, refrigerators and other products.
“Women were the major consumers not only in the plant families but in (American) society,” she said. “DuPont really prided itself and promoted itself as a patriotic company dedicated to American consumerism.”