Interview with Sue Sutter
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Sutter_Sue
Robert Bauman: Well, I think we're ready to get started.
Sue Sutter: All right.
Bauman: So let's start by having you say your name and spell your last name for us.
Sutter: Sue Sutter, S-U-T-T-E-R.
Bauman: Great, thank you. And my name is Robert Bauman, and we're conducting this oral history interview on July 23rd of 2014, on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So I wonder if you could start by telling us, first of all, when you came to Hanford and what brought you here.
Sutter: Well, it all started when I was in college. I was at Washington State. It was a college then. And they came up there and interviewed, and they gave most of us jobs. They needed warm bodies down here. And so I had a job when I came down here in June 21st of 1948.
Bauman: And what did you major in in college at WS--?
Sutter: Chemistry. They needed a lot of chemists. And then when I came here, my folks brought me over from Seattle in a car. And we came to North Richland. Well, I signed in downtown, and we came out to North Richland, where I was supposed to go. And where I was assigned to live, at least temporarily, was in North Richland. It had a wire, a cyclone fence around it, topped by three rows of barbed wire. I think it was made for prisoners of war or something like that. I didn't think my parents were going to leave me there, but they did. And I'd never seen one before. They had a community shower, you know, like the men have. I was the only person there. And the next day, they found me a place downtown. I was in W5. W5 was the women's dorm. And it was right above the Green Hut Cafe, where everybody ate all the time, because that's about what it was, that and Thrifty Drug. And when I was there, I met some of the—it was when I was going through the hospital, one of my friends from college was working there, and she happened to be in the same dorm. And I went. That was about it. And I don't remember starting work. And where do you want to go from here now?
Bauman: Well, what was your first job? What sort of work were you doing?
Sutter: Oh, what they called essential materials. It was in 300 Area. And everything that came on to the plant had to be chemically verified. And that was what that job was. And I was working there for about three years. And then I got married. That's where I met my husband. He was in the lab, too—a chemist.
Bauman: What were your first impressions when you arrived in the area here? Do you remember?
Sutter: No, I don't. After you've gone away to college, I went over on the train from college, you're used to things changing at that time. It didn't strike me as odd at all. What was odd was that when I first came, I was in North Richland and I had to eat out of the cafeteria there. And it was all full of construction workers. [LAUGHTER] But I survived. But I was only out there a couple of days, and then I moved to town.
Bauman: And you said you worked for three years out at the 300 Area then?
Bauman: And you met your husband. Was your husband also working there?
Sutter: Yeah, we were in 3706 Building, which has long since been destroyed.
Bauman: And you mentioned your dorm was right above the cafe.
Sutter: Yeah. Oh, that's it. And there were a lot of young people here. They had money and no place to go. And so every weekend—a few of them had cars—so we all left town. And we went down to Lost Lake in Oregon on one trip. And I remember one trip we went to Long Beach, Washington, and just various around here. Because there was nothing here. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: I was going to ask you, was there anything in town for entertainment?
Sutter: Oh, I think there was a movie theater. And Thrifty Drug. I don't recall any particular entertainment. Of course, we were here for working. Well, that's why we left town.
Bauman: So after three years working at the 300 Area, you got married. Where did you live it at point then?
Sutter: Oh, we were able to get a house. Houses were assigned to married people. We lived on Farrell Lane. And we lived there for about three years. And then they decided they were going to sell all the houses, and that's when we bought the house in Kennewick. You have the information on selling the houses.
Bauman: Right, yes.
Sutter: We were the junior tenants in a duplex.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Sutter: And we moved to Kennewick, and we stayed there ever since. We were lucky to find a house that worked very well for us over there.
Bauman: So let's go back to your work, then, a little bit. What was your work like? How was it as a place to work, the 300 Area, when you were there?
Sutter: It was just a lab. There were a lot of funny people working there, different people working there. One of the technicians, she stole all the cheesecloth, and she wrapped it around her head and took it out with her every day. [LAUGHTER] But I can't remember much of working. I'm sorry.
Bauman: That's okay. That's fine. And did your husband continue working then there at the same area?
Sutter: No, after I got pregnant, I stayed home. And it was 1965, I think, when I went back to work. I worked for Battelle. And I worked there until I retired.
Bauman: And what kind of job was that?
Sutter: Well, it varied. At Battelle, you do whatever needs to be done. And I was—I've forgotten. I was working at a lab at first. And I ended up helping with quality assurance for some of the people. That was a good job.
Bauman: And how long did you work there, then?
Sutter: I retired in 1968. Is that right?
Man one: I think it was after I got out of high school. Did you tell them about you were a wind tunnel scientist?
Sutter: Oh, yeah, I worked in atmospheric sciences after some time at Battelle. And I operated a wind tunnel. And this was for—they were trying to find out how much would blow around out on the site. And so we went out and picked up samples on the dirt. And then we put measured amounts in the wind tunnel and see how far it goes and how long it stayed there, that type of information. And all this went into the environmental impact statement that they had to make when they were operating. And the annoying thing is, everybody thought my husband did that work. [LAUGHTER] It's the way it was.
Bauman: When you first came in 1948 and were in the women's dorms, did you take buses to get out to the site?
Sutter: Yes. But I don't remember anything. I know we had to take buses. You could not drive cars in on the site then. Oh, that's it. We took one bus, and we went up to the bus lot, and then you got on to the bus that took you out to where you were working. Quite an operation.
Bauman: And when you then went back to work in the '60s, were you still taking buses? Or were you driving your own car out there?
Sutter: There were still buses. I've forgotten where I was working. And then for a while, when I got transferred out to the atmospheric sciences building, the meteorological station, I rode out to that area with my husband. Because he was in 2-West at that time. He was a supervisor.
Bauman: And when you started working in 1948 as a chemist, were there are a lot of other women chemists at Hanford at the time?
Sutter: There were several of us, about five or six—I mean, considering all, yes.
Bauman: So you lived in Richland for a while, got married, then you moved to Kennewick. Is that right?
Bauman: Okay. One of events that happened, I know, was in 1963, President Kennedy came to dedicate the N Reactor. Do you remember that at all?
Sutter: Oh, I remember it. I took my three children out there with me. I was not working then, and then we drove out there. And all I can remember is this one over here, she ran away. And I decided I wasn't going to even be worried about her, because I wanted to see Kennedy. He was quite a charismatic person. And Paul was there, too. We were all there. And I have another daughter, too.
Bauman: Do you remember much about the day itself?
Sutter: It was about 80 degrees. Oh, and I can remember Kennedy was so surprised when he started the reactor with a probe of some kind. A lot of traffic. Took me a long time to get home. My husband had gone out there. Everybody who worked there went there on buses, and so he got home way long time before I did. [LAUGHTER] It was well attended.
Bauman: Do you remember any other events or incidents, things that happened when you either were working at Hanford or living in the area here?
Sutter: I can't think of any right now.
Man one: What about your dorm social clubs?
Sutter: My what?
Man one: The social clubs in the dorm?
Sutter: Oh, yeah, we belonged to the dorm club. That's the one that we went someplace every weekend. That's just the dorm club. Oh, and they had dances in town, too. In fact, I think I brought over a picture of one of those if you—you can have them.
Man one: The Sadie Hawkins Day dance.
Sutter: They don't have Sadie Hawkins anymore.
Bauman: They do, actually.
Sutter: Do they?
Bauman: The high schools do.
Sutter: Okay, but we were all just a little bit older. But you just had to make your own entertainment. And that was a good one.
Bauman: So did you and your husband meet at work?
Bauman: At the 300 Area?
Sutter: Actually in 300 Area. Oh, and another thing we used to do is everybody drank beer. We'd go out by the Yakima River and drink beer after work in the evening, swing shift or something. It was just fun.
Bauman: Mm-hm. So you've seen a lot of change in the time that you--
Sutter: Oh, my Lord, yes.
Bauman: Obviously one change that happened at Hanford was a shift from production to cleanup.
Bauman: I don't know if you want to talk about that a little bit.
Sutter: Well, all I did was run the wind tunnel. We generated information so they could do the environmental impact statement before they started doing something out there. And we'd go out in the field, and I know they had picked up all kind of material to run through the wind tunnel to see what happened to it.
Bauman: I know there was a lot of emphasis on security at Hanford and secrecy. Can you talk about that at all, what that was like?
Sutter: It was pretty straightforward. You had a badge, and you had to show it every time you went in and out. And it went pretty easily.
Bauman: Were you able to talk about your work at all?
Sutter: You weren't supposed to. But it wasn't interesting work, so I didn't want to talk about it anyway. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: And what about the community itself? How did that change over the years?
Sutter: Well, the community, they built the ranch houses. And we got a lot of bad dust storms then. And I was home with children, and you just don't get out in the community much. There wasn't much here that’s all.
Man one: Mom?
Man one: Did you ever talk about an incident, I guess you were down on the river and security came out to see what you were doing or something like that?
Sutter: I don't remember anything like that.
Man one: Oh, okay. I thought I—Or boating or something and the army showed up?
Woman one: Well, there was a--
Sutter: You should have prepped me for this.
Woman one: Wasn't there a military base, too?
Sutter: A what?
Woman one: A military base out there, Camp Hanford?
Sutter: Well, yeah, Camp Hanford was there for a while, yeah. I don't remember. I wasn't working when it was Camp Hanford. I can remember baking a cake for the soldiers. That's about it.
Bauman: Oh, did you?
Bauman: Was there a specific reason for baking a cake?
Sutter: Oh, I belonged to a club. And that was their project that they were on, and so I've participated, just once that I can remember. We lived in a B house. Oh, and all the coal was furnished free, coal furnace in the basement. [LAUGHTER] You don't know about those. My husband called it the iron monster because you'd have to bang it so it would start the next morning. He was on shift work, and it's not the best way to go.
Bauman: So were you renting the B house then?
Sutter: You paid some rent. There was nominal rent. It was cheap. And as I remember, they furnished the coal. And if something happened, you just called down, like my dear son, he's flushed potatoes down the toilet. And you'd call somebody, and the plumber comes out immediately and takes care of it.
Man one: And what did you do that night for dinner?
Sutter: I gave you potato soup. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So a lot of the service or repair work was--
Sutter: It was done by somebody. They were just like a landlord. But you had to mow the lawn and water it.
Bauman: You had to take care of yard, that sort of thing. So how long did your husband work at Hanford then?
Sutter: Until he retired. I think he worked there for 50 years. No, not that long.
Woman one: Well, if he was working in '76 when I was in high school.
Sutter: Yeah, I don't remember how long. But he worked there until he retired. It was a good job. You could move from job to job at that time because it was all under one contractor. And he worked in 2 East and 2 West as well as I think North Richland.
Bauman: So what was the most challenging--was there any part of your work that you did at Hanford that you would think was sort of the most challenging thing that you did or the most rewarding?
Sutter: I think the most fun was just before I retired. It was when I was running a wind tunnel, and it was out in 2 East Area in an old evaporator building. I remember there were just the two of us. I was there with a technician, and we had a wind tunnel. And all these things that we’d gathered out on the terrain, we'd put them in the wind tunnel to see what they were going to do and how far they would go. And then this was put into a report that I wrote. And the annoying thing is, everybody thought my husband wrote it. Because they just put it with your initials.
Bauman: What were the findings of that report? Do you remember what did you--
Sutter: I have no idea. It didn't matter to us. This much went along, and if you're a researcher, you just give them the results. I think they were able to do all the work anyway. But it was fun. You'd go out, and you'd gather up these—there were rabbits out there. And they liked to sit on top of the hills. And so that was a rich place to get samples. Research is really fun work. Because it doesn't matter. You get an answer. And that's the answer. If they don't like it, that's their problem.
Bauman: Overall, then, how was Hanford as a place to work?
Sutter: Well, I unfortunately had a manager—I shouldn't--he was Mormon. And he didn't think women should be working. However, the next level up really believed in women. So he's the one that--I was treasurer for the local ACS. And I wanted to go to the meeting in Hawai’i. And my immediate manager wouldn't let me, but the next one up sent me. When you're an officer, they usually will let you go to something like that. So that's how I got to Hawai’i. I figure all the men do it, and so I was trying to do the same thing.
Bauman: That's a good place to go for a conference.
Sutter: Yeah, oh, yes. One of the women from another contractor was there, and she even came to the meetings in her bathing suit, if came at all. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: When was this about that you did that?
Sutter: Well, I was still working, so I don't really--
Bauman: The '60s?
Sutter: Yeah. I can't remember that long ago.
Bauman: Is there anything I haven't asked you about yet or that you haven't talked about that you think is important to talk about?
Sutter: No, I can't think of anything.
Man one: What was it like being a woman and working in this area, predominantly male?
Sutter: Well, that didn't bother me except some of them are prejudiced against women. And actually, when I was out, we had the lab out where the wind tunnel in 2 East. And the fellow I worked with was really good. He was a farmer from over in Pasco. He raised apples. But he would just do anything that needed to be done. It didn't matter whether you were a woman or man. He'd do anything. Oh, the funny thing about that is the building that we had, they had a restroom in it. And they didn't have a door on it. So my manager had them put a door in it. But they put a door in it with a window. [LAUGHTER] So they had to change the door.
Bauman: That didn't help a whole lot, did it?
Sutter: No, but there were just the two of us working there. We had to report over to the Atmospheric Sciences building and then drive over to where the wind tunnel was.
Bauman: Oh, I see, okay.
Woman one: Mom, you shared with me the difficulty at getting a raise, the difficulty getting a raise in pay.
Bauman: Did you have difficulty getting a raise?
Sutter: Oh, yeah. My manager said the raise is--this is more than I wanted to give you. He wanted the raises for the men, because they have a family to take care of. He doesn't realize I have all these kids to take care of, too, and one daughter who went on to college and is now an engineer out there.
Bauman: Were you able to get the raise?
Sutter: Oh, yeah, oh, yes. You have to be persistent.
Bauman: Do you happen to remember what your salary was, say, when you started in 1948 at all?
Sutter: It's about $100 a week. I don't really remember. It was adequate for the time.
Bauman: Do you remember any other challenges being a woman working there in the 1940s and 1960s?
Sutter: Well, like that this one manager who just didn't believe in women.
Bauman: But you said the person above him--
Sutter: Just fine person, yeah. And that's always helpful.
Bauman: Right. I don't think I have any more questions for you.
Man one: Oh, excuse me. What was it like raising us kids in an area that didn't have a lot of support services and it was just all your contemporaries and nobody had any relatives in town or anything like that?
Sutter: I never thought about it.
Man one: It was what it was and you just coped with it?
Sutter: Yeah. Oh, and then I remember we babysat back and forth. I remember my friend Dusty was babysitting and Paul, all he'd do is hide in the closet. [LAUGHTER] That was a long time ago.
Bauman: But you'd find ways to help each other out?
Bauman: Take care of the kids.
Woman one: And Dad was from--where was Dad from? New York?
Man one: Yeah, he went to University of Buffalo and was recruited out there.
Bauman: So you mentioned you went to Washington State College. Where were you from initially? When did you grow up?
Sutter: I was grown up in Seattle.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Sutter: And I went to college starting in home economics, and that's a dumb major. They don't give you anything challenging. And the only thing I liked the first year was chemistry, and that's why I majored in that.
Man one: I was curious. I kind of recalled once hearing a story about the way you met Dad was you accidentally left some battery acid on a stool or something like this? And it left a stain on his pants?
Sutter: I don't remember anything like that. No, he was just out there in the same lab. And then he was in this group that went on trips. He was one with a car!
Man one: So that made him popular?
Bauman: So he went on some of these trips. You were part of the group?
Sutter: Yeah. Oh, we went down to Lost Lake in Oregon. I can remember that. And I knew Steve Buckingham. We were up there. Snow was on the ground. And he went in the water. And he said, it's warm! I can remember that one.
Man one: How many people would go on the trips?
Man one: I mean, it was like four or five?
Sutter: Yeah, about that, because you just had cars. You didn't have anything big. There were no buses or anything taking you.
Woman one: So lack of family support, you built some really good friendships that you still have now.
Bauman: About how often did you go on these trips?
Sutter: Oh, I'd say once a month or something. There was various degrees. It depends on what came to mind, what the people wanted.
Man one; What about the one where you left town and you got someplace and set up camp in the middle the night and Steve Buckingham found a--
Sutter: Oh, yeah, we were going over to Orcas Island. That was where we were going. And so we camped near Anacortes, and it was dark. And when we woke up, we found we camped in the garbage dump. [LAUGHTER] We went on our trip.
Bauman: That's a great story. Well, I want to thank you for coming in today and sharing your stories. And we're going to go ahead and make copies of the photos that you brought in.
Sutter: Oh, yeah, they're over there. I don't know. A lot of them you don't want.
Man one: Oh, I don't know. There's a lot of them that were--