Interview with Barbara Brown Taylor

Dublin Core


Interview with Barbara Brown Taylor


An interview with Barbara Brown Taylor conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.



Date Modified

2018-31-1: Metadata v1 created – [A.H.]


The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to this US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


Barbara Brown Taylor


Clark Place in Moscow, Idaho


Camera man: Whenever you’re-

Robert Franklin: Ready?

Camera man: We’re ready for you, yeah. Do your thing.

Franklin: Okay, let’s, yeah, let’s go. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Barbara Brown Taylor on January 6th, 2017. The interview is being conducted at Clark Place in Moscow, Idaho. I will be talking with Barbara about her experiences growing up at the Hanford Site and her father’s experiences working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

Barbara Brown Taylor: Barbara Brown Taylor. B-A-R-B-A-R-A, B-R-O-W-N, T-A-Y-L-O-R, no hyphens.

Franklin: Great, thank you. So let’s start from the beginning. How did you come to the Hanford Site?

Taylor: In 1943, my father was hired from a company—wait a minute, take that off. In 1943, my father was hired to be the landscape architect in a new city. What an exciting thing for a landscape architect, what kind of an exciting job! We came from Illinois. I don’t know if he was the sole architect, but I do remember some of the things he did. That’s how I came here.

Franklin: And how old were you when you came?

Taylor: I was eight.

Franklin: And so the city that you’re talking about, that would have been Richland?

Taylor: Richland.

Franklin: Richland, Washington.

Taylor: And we didn’t know, of course, what it was. It was just a new city in the desert, had something to do with the war.

Franklin: Were the Alphabet Houses being constructed at that point-

Taylor: Yes.

Franklin: Or did you arrive before—okay.

Taylor: Well, he arrived in ’43.

Franklin: Right.

Taylor: The houses were being built. And my mother and brother and I lived on a farm in Illinois until my father wrote to us and said, the house is ready. So at that time, you signed up for a house, the men did the work there. As soon as it was ready, you could bring your family. It didn’t have any glass in the windows, but it was ready.

Franklin: Wow. That seems like a pretty crucial component of—

Taylor: My mother thought so. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Yeah, especially with the winds that would blow.

Taylor: Absolutely, absolutely. It was covered with dust.

Franklin: So your father, then, would have worked with Albin Pherson, the head architect for the—

Taylor: I assume so. He didn’t talk about the people he worked with. I never met another landscape architect there. He was very busy all the time, because he had a crew that supplied the grass seed and rented—not rented, lent out the lawn mowers and shovels and all sorts of things. As I remember him saying, there was an instruction sheet, which he put out. Somehow the government decided you couldn’t just have a city built on sand with nothing in the yards. Maybe you couldn’t keep people there. I don’t know the reason. But they hired these crews of men who worked on supplying the needs to do a lawn. And as I remember it, you had to have a lawn. If you couldn’t do it with what the city gave you free, then you had to pay somebody to put your lawn in. Because after a certain amount of time, you had to have a lawn.

Franklin: Mm.

Taylor: Not necessarily flowers, just you had to have grass.

Franklin: You had to have grass. What other kinds of work did your father do besides planning out yards and lawns and things like that?

Taylor: Well, he did that for churches and schools. There were only two churches, a Catholic church and a Protestant church. The government built two churches. That was it. And he would landscape those. Any public buildings that needed it—library—there were a few things like that. It was very sketchy and basic at the beginning.

Franklin: Mm-hm.

Taylor: So I think he landscaped whatever was there. I think that’s why they brought him.

Franklin: Tell me about growing up in wartime Richland. Where did you go to school, did you go to church, you know, what was the atmosphere like there?

Taylor: Well, I was eight. And we came here in June, and September was the first day of school. And I went to Lewis and Clark Grade School, which was right up the street of Locke. I lived on Casey Street in an A house. I walked up to school. And that first day, the teacher said, I want to know where all of you are from. Give your name and tell us where you came from. So one at a time, we got up, gave our names. I said Illinois. One of my new friends said New Jersey. Somebody else said Texas, somebody else said Colorado. And I thought at the time, I don’t think this has ever happened before. I don’t think the first day of school, people are from somewhere else. And I’ve always remembered that, how interesting that was to see all those new kids make new friends. When you’re a kid, as long as you’re with your parents and you feel love in a family, it’s great to have new adventures. [LAUGHTER] I don’t think my mother liked it at all! But, you know. That’s one thing. The first year, perhaps a little longer, but the first year, there were no telephones in homes. And as I recall, if the wife was going to have a baby, they would issue her a phone for the period just before she had the baby. So she could call the doctor, her husband at work, whatever. But the minute she had the baby, they came and took the phone out. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow. [LAUGHTER]

Taylor: And there was a phone that first summer on many telephone poles. The kind that just hangs up. You could go there and make a call, free. But you had to find one to do that, because there just wasn’t that accessibility to phones.

Franklin: How would you know who to call? Would you get an operator when you—

Taylor: You’d get an operator, of course. You always got an operator in those days.

Franklin: Sure, and then they would connect you to another telephone on a pole on a different street? Or how would—

Taylor: No, no, you probably wouldn’t get a call back. I don’t remember ever walking down the street and hearing a phone ring. [LAUGHTER] It was an out kind of thing. Let’s say you wanted to call your grandmother in Illinois or something. You might get to use it.

Franklin: Oh, okay, I see. It wasn’t an in-town—

Taylor: No, not really. I don’t think so.

Franklin: And what did your mother do?

Taylor: My mother was a homemaker, but she had been a registered nurse. And she went back to that when I grew up and was off to college.

Franklin: And were your parents still in Richland at the time?

Taylor: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Taylor: Here’s the thing. I don’t think that the government intended to keep the city. As I remember, we were going to live there as long as we needed to. When the war was over, you’d all go back to wherever you came from or somewhere else. But they didn’t build that city to keep. The wood was not the best, the floors were pine and splintered. Those little prefabs—I didn’t live in one, but they were tiny.

Franklin: I live in one.

Taylor: So you know.

Franklin: They’re very tiny.

Taylor: You know what I mean. They were built out of cardboard—I mean plywood. Plywood was new in those days. And they built them so fast that I remember going to that school up the street, to Lewis and Clark, that first year. And there’d be one when I’d go to school, and when I came back there’d be three.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER]

Taylor: So during the day I was going to school, the men were slapping those things together. It was interesting [LAUGHTER] seeing, ooh, we have a new house, we have a new house.

Franklin: What do you think your mother did not like about living—you mentioned that she wasn’t too happy about moving there?

Taylor: Oh, she was from Illinois—they were. And Illinois is a green, beautiful state with woods. And Richland was sand. It was sand. So when we moved in, there was no glass in the windows, which they said they’d put in pretty soon. And the yard was all sand. My mother would look out the window with no glass in it, and almost cry. I was eight, and I looked out the window and saw the little girl next door playing in the sand in front of our house. And I remember yelling out the window to her, stop playing in our yard! Stop digging our yard! She was digging a hole in our yard. And my mother put her head against the wall and said, Barbara, we don’t have a yard! [LAUGHTER] Which was very true; we didn’t. As soon as the work really got going with planting the grass everywhere, I remember my father going out—there were things called tract houses, which had been there before the Hanford place was built. Some of them were abandoned, because the government had bought them. They were abandoned, and here were rose bushes and lilac bushes and things that people had had in their yards. Since it now belonged to the government, my father had permission to go and get them. And he would. He took his trailer and he went out there and dug them up himself and brought them in and put some of them at the libraries, and some of them at the churches, whatever. That was one reason we had nice shrubs. Because he would do that.

Franklin: Where was your father stationed during those war years?

Taylor: Where did he live?

Franklin: Where did he work, where was his office, where did he work out of? Or was he just kind of a roving—

Taylor: No, it wasn’t freelance in any way. There were government buildings. There was probably a landscaping building with a parking lot full of lawnmowers. One of his crew was in charge of the lawnmowers. They were probably locked or fenced or something. He had some kind of a building, maybe a hutment—I don’t know what kind it was. I didn’t see him at work. I saw the results of his work.

Franklin: Yeah.

Taylor: And he also had trucks and drove around in a truck and worked out of his truck, too. The crews, of course, did the work. He was the manager at the time, after he landscaped all the buildings and how they were going to look, ultimately. And he turned the papers over to his supervisors, and they did the work.

Franklin: How did your father get started with landscaping architecture?

Taylor: Well, at the University of Illinois, just before I was born, he graduated in the architecture department, which at that time had the landscape architecture program in it. So he really was an architect with a specialty in landscape architecture. He was just out of college in 1929 when the Masters Tournament golf course was being built. He was very fortunate to know a man named Bobby Jones who designed the—he was an architect, designed the Masters Tournament—built the course. And he hired a bunch of just-out-of-college men like my father. My father and mother had just gotten married. They went to Augusta, Georgia, and my father worked on that golf course. He did some of the—what’s that white part?

Franklin: Sand trap?

Taylor: Sand trap.

Franklin: I’m not much of a golfer.

Taylor: He worked on the sand traps, designing them. And had little models—plaster of Paris models. I wish I had one today, because we always had them around the house. Which my father had gotten when the thing was built. Then they didn’t need those anymore. So he had done that for a few years. By the way, the Masters Tournament golf course was built in 1929. My father told me the money to build it was in escrow. The people who had given the money to build this beautiful golf course had their money tied up in a way that the stock market couldn’t touch it. So that’s why they could build such a beautiful thing in 1929.

Franklin: I see.

Taylor: And ’30, I think. Anyway, that’s what he did. Then during the war, he had a harder time because who was landscaping anything? Not very many people. And he got a job with the government in the CCC program—he was a supervisor in Illinois in the woods where they had workers that were building roads and bridges and beautiful little stone—what do you call that? Well, stone bridges, I guess. And I remember those days, I was very little, like four or five. But I remember that he would take me to the woods and show me what he was doing. So he had that job, and that was a very steady job, because the CCC supported a lot of people during those days. That would have been the ‘30s. Then when the war came along, there were some military plants. One was at Kankakee, and we were there for a year or two, where my father was in charge of all the grounds for the whole plant. I think it was at that time that he was approached to come to Richland. Because they were building Hanford. And they had to build the city, even if they weren’t going to keep it. They had to build it. And hired him to do it. There weren’t that many landscape architects in those days.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: So I think the word must have gotten out that there was one available.

Franklin: And how long—so your father, did he stay working for Hanford, for the government after the war ended?

Taylor: Yes. A lot of people stayed. I don’t think that the government people understood the idea of a sense of place, where people make their home somewhere and they’re very reluctant to let go of it, even if it has pine floors and is not very up-to-date with everything. Their kids were now in school. They had a job. And it was far enough from the cities—some people liked that, and wanted to stay. It’s right on the edge of the Columbia River, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world. So, my father joined them and wherever there was a job that he could get—because he also had many drafting skills and things like that. There was also a program called the as-built program. I think that was in the ‘50s. But Hanford had been thrown up so fast that there hadn’t been good blueprints of what they did. They hired my dad to run a little office with lots of blueprint machines. And he and some other people would go out and look at the buildings and draw, you know, make sketches of what was really there.

Franklin: Mm-hm.

Taylor: The measurements and all that. And then the idea was now the government knows. Now the firetrucks can go to the right place. Because there were places nobody knew what they were, you know?

Franklin: Sure. Yeah, no, I’ve heard of that program before. And, like you said, it was very necessary.

Taylor: It was very useful, very useful. Then, about that time, 1955, ’56, people were building golf courses again. They hadn’t been all through the war. I don’t think there was one built—but I don’t know that. But they were building them, and Richland wanted to have a golf course and Kennewick wanted to have a golf course—just nine holes. And they hired my dad to design these. Interestingly enough, my father was very generous, and he accepted the jobs even though they weren’t going to pay him. They agreed to give him memberships in the clubs to cover what they should have given him for a salary. [LAUGHTER] Because that’s all they had to offer. And he wanted to see golf courses there. So he built one in Kennewick, and he built one in Richland. He also built Columbia Park, which is all along the river, maybe one of the longest parks in Washington. I don’t know.

Franklin: Really?

Taylor: But it’s very long, and it’s very narrow—some places only 20 feet.

Franklin: Mm-hm. And when you say built it, he—

Taylor: Designed it. He had a good arrangement there, because a lot of the woodsy part—he was very fond of Russian olive trees. And a lot of those were already there, all along the river. So all he had to do was built driveways and parking spots, camping spots, and smooth out the rough places. Make a road—because there’s a road the whole length of it.

Franklin: Yeah, that’s a very widely used park in town. It’s a great park.

Taylor: He loved doing that. I don’t know what they paid him for that. Much later, he built the Memorial Gardens, along the west edge of Richland, which is a cemetery. I have a picture in there of my parents. They gave them a pair of plots instead of paying them. Because they didn’t have the money to pay them. My father wanted a cemetery there. So, I think he was very generous. He was very community-minded. He was on the Benton County Planning Commission for many years. Encouraging parks, encouraging more and more landscaping and making it a more livable town. It needed to be kept up; the work that was done at the beginning needed to be continued, because there were a lot of people who lived there. And he could see the need for that. He told me once, if you live in a desert, you need twice as many trees. And I don’t think everyone agreed with that. Some of the businessmen thought, there’s some land; we’ll build on it. But my father hoped he could get parks in there. And he had to go through the council—Benton County Council—to get those parks approved.

Franklin: Sure. How long—did your parents stay in Richland for the rest of their lives?

Taylor: They did.

Franklin: Okay.

Taylor: They did. I wanted to tell you that my father died of liver cancer. And we always thought it was the plant. Because when he was in the as-built program, he had to go and inspect the buildings. And one day, he came home and told my mother that the little badge he had to wear had gone off. Lit up, made a noise, and that meant he had been overexposed to something. They had taken him into a safe room, made him shower, given him different clothes, sent him to the doctor. And within a year, he was dead. He had liver cancer. And he never drank. We knew it was not that kind of thing.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: And a lot of people had that happen. It hasn’t been added up, I don’t think. But there were a lot of people like that.

Franklin: Sure. And what year did he pass away?

Taylor: 1966.

Franklin: 1966.

Taylor: He was 64 years old.

Franklin: Oh, okay. And you mentioned that you had grown up there and then eventually went to college. What year did you leave Richland to go to—

Taylor: 1953.

Franklin: Okay. Right. So I’m wondering if you could tell me a little more about growing up in Richland. Did you stay in that same A house for the time that you were there?

Taylor: Yes, yes, until I went to college and got married a year or so later. My parents lived in that house. And then it became possible for residents to buy houses.

Franklin: Right, in 1958.

Taylor: They could buy the ones they were in and they could also buy ones nobody wanted. So they bought theirs. And they bought a little one on the other side of town as an investment, which they rented out. A lot of people did that.

Franklin: Right, right. I wonder if you could tell me about what you remember about the coming of the commercial—like the Uptown and kind of how Richland transitioned a little bit after the war. To start to become more of a normal town, but still totally government-owned and controlled.

Taylor: Yes, I can tell you that. I thought Uptown was great. There was a theater there! There were stores there, which we hadn’t had much of before. My father was very busy trying to get a park in the spot where that was. And writing things for the Tri-City Herald. And going to the Benton County meetings, trying to encourage a park in that spot. It was quite near a school and the school had a big yard. But there was George Washington Way, was right between where he wanted the park, where Uptown is. And the businessmen just, you know, they had the power and they got it. I always enjoyed it, because I was just a kid. I was in high school at that time.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: Didn’t realize how ahead of his time my father was. Because he loved trees, he loved building a better environment for people. Considered himself a conservationist. Also considered himself an urban planner, because that’s right in that—he didn’t have degrees in that. But I don’t know that there were degrees at that time. He just built on his education as he went along and did a lot in those fields.

Franklin: Do you remember the day when people found out about what had been produced at Hanford, or what was being produced at Hanford?

Taylor: Well, I was nine.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: What did I know? I was nine. I saw—we took the Walla Walla Union Bulletin paper. I was sitting on the front lawn, and the paper came. And said something like, the war is over. It was our bomb. Something like that.

Franklin: Mm-hm.

Taylor: And I looked at it. With my nine-year-old understanding, I thought, does this mean we’re leaving? Does this mean the end of Richland? Of course, I didn’t know. I remember that paper, I just don’t remember the exact words of the headline. My parents kept it for a long time, and a lot of people did—kept that newspaper that came out. And of course, I didn’t know what the place was for anyway, except something about the war. And we had lived at Kankakee, and that was something about the war. But my father didn’t seem like the kind of person that would be working in chemistry or in physics or anything like that. By the way, my father grew up in a Quaker family.

Franklin: Oh.

Taylor: And he was very pacifist.

Franklin: Mm-hmm.

Taylor: I think he would not have been in any kind of a job that had to do with hurting people. But he didn’t know what it was for. He didn’t know it was a terrible bomb that was being built. And he had a good job. I mean, coming out of the Depression, if you could get a good job, you took it.

Franklin: Right, right, yeah. No questions asked. What do you remember about civil defense? Drills and things like that in kind of the early part of the Cold War?

Taylor: Well, I remember getting under the desk. I don’t remember much other than that.

Franklin: Did you ever feel any fear or anxiety about living so close to Hanford, something that might have been a potential target in the case of aggression?

Taylor: No. I think a lot of kids might have. But my parents were not the kind to let us worry. And years later, my mother told me, Barbara, we didn’t know that America was going to win. We had no idea. We had been through the First World War, we had been through the Depression. We knew bad things could happen. And here was the country fighting on two fronts, two parts of the world. We were not having you worry. Because we never knew whether we would win. So we didn’t tell you much. When the newspaper came, we got it, we read it, we read the cartoons to you. You listened to Charlie McCarthy, and the Great Gildersleeve. All those humorous shows, Jack Benny. All those things that never touched on the war.

Franklin: What about later, though, during the Cold War? When you would have been in high school or starting to get a little bit older and maybe hearing more about the kind of conflicts that the US was involved in?

Taylor: Well, I did have an interesting situation. After I married, my husband joined the Army, because there was a draft. And his grades were not as high as they should have been. He was going to Eastern, to college—Eastern Washington College in Cheney. His grades were not as good as they could have been, so he decided to join. Because they promised him an electronics job. He didn’t have to a frontline military person.

Franklin: Mm-hm.

Taylor: And he wanted to be in electronics. So he joined in 1957. And our little boy was born in ’59. I went to Germany a few months after that. My father said, don’t take that baby over there. Because he had been through the Second World War and he knew how bad things could be. And there was a wall.

Franklin: Right.

Taylor: And there were all those things. And we were--I don’t know how many miles from the wall he was. And he didn’t want me to go. That was one of the few times I ever saw him cry. So we went, we stayed there two years, had a wonderful time going to places even though we didn’t have any money. But it was dangerous. The Army told us, you must keep several days’ worth of diapers, food, clothes, all your papers—you must keep them in one place. Because some morning, a truck may pull up in front of your house—an Army truck. And they’ll say, come and bring your things. And we had to get in the truck—they warned us this might happen—and we’ll drive to France. They had places of protection and more food and care for the children and all that. But it’ll be in France.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: If something happens with the wall.

Franklin: Do you think your parents might have felt anxiety during the Cold War, living in Hanford in kind of a—I mean, now knowing what was being produced there and that it might have been a target for retaliation?

Taylor: Well, they never said so. They never said so; they didn’t want to worry us. That’s the kind of parents they were. They protected their children. I think there were a lot of young people who had parents like that. I don’t remember anybody saying they were scared.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: They were busy going to school. We never felt like we didn’t have a future.

Franklin: Did you ever come back to Richland? I’m assuming you probably would’ve come back to visit your family, but did you ever come back to live there again?

Taylor: Yes, my husband and our children came back to live there for a short time when he got out of the Army, he happened to be—it was 19-early-60s and it was hard to get jobs. He got a job there inspecting pipes. The kind of pipes that had nuclear things going through them. And they were welded. He got jobs inspecting the welding. He didn’t like that kind of thing, and so he went on and did other things. He had a degree in industrial arts. He did some drafting for a while. And then he became a police officer in Pullman.

Franklin: Okay.

Taylor: So that’s how we ended up back in Pullman and raised our kids there. So I only went back to Richland a few years. Wanted to go back to Pullman. I really had a good time in college there, and I liked having a university. There wasn’t any Tri-Cities center at that time—Tri-Cities branch.

Franklin: Sure. And then you mentioned that you worked at WSU as well.

Taylor: 27 years, yeah. From 1967 to 1995. From 1967 to 1995, I was a full-time secretary at WSU. And felt very good about it. I loved working at a university. I went to school along with it, which was great because I had not quite finished college. And so I took a lot of classes.

Franklin: Is there anything else that you’d like to—that we haven’t touched on, that you’d like to talk about? About your father or Hanford or Richland or your own life?

Taylor: Well, Richland was a very safe place for children at that time. As I look back, I didn’t appreciate that. We could get on our bicycles and ride anywhere in town as long as we were home for dinner. We could go to friends’, we could go to school, we could be in summer programs. They always had summer activities for the kids. And I think a lot of the amenities that a city has, even though it was a small town—actually we called it a village. It was known as a village. But I loved that. The freedom. And now, of course, you can’t just tell a kid, just be home for dinner. But they did. I could go to the movies on Saturday. There were two theaters and they had double features all the time. I always felt free to do whatever. I think it felt safe to do that. Another reason might have been we were very middle class. I never saw a black child when I was in school.

Franklin: Sure, because African Americans weren’t allowed to live in Richland.

Taylor: They were not allowed to work there. I don’t think that was an open policy, but they didn’t. They lived in Pasco.

Franklin: Mm-hmm.

Taylor: And they were not really given jobs at Hanford. I didn’t know about different races. I was a child. It was a middle class town, and you had to have a job to have a house.

Franklin: Sure. And everybody worked for the same employer.

Taylor: Absolutely, at the beginning, they did. Everybody did. I remember my mother saying when they first moved there, rent was $27 a month. And it was an A house. $27 a month. Which was very reasonable for the time.

Franklin: Well, that included pretty much full service, too, right?

Taylor: I think so.

Franklin: The government delivered coal and--

Taylor: Water.

Franklin: Changed the light bulbs, and—

Taylor: I don’t remember that part. I think my father probably would have done a lot of those little things, but—

Franklin: Okay.

Taylor: I think they probably would. But I remember the electricity and the water were included.

Franklin: Richland has such a unique history of being this government constructed and owned town for 15 years. And I’ve always found it interesting to hear people’s experiences, like yours, about how safe and free they felt in a town that was so entirely unique in terms of its—like you said, it was middle class. Everyone who was there had a certain income—

Taylor: Had a job!

Franklin: They had a job. But the government also owned and controlled who could live in that community. So it’s a community of safety, but it seems to be of not the traditional freedoms that we associate with any other kind of community or anything like that. It’s always stuck out to me, in looking at Richland.

Taylor: Well, perhaps an adult would see that. To me it was just feeling safe.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: I don’t know that I felt unsafe in Illinois. I was in the kind of family that were very caring, that always put our care first. I had very good parents.

Franklin: I’ve had—a couple other times when I’ve interviewed people that have grown up in Richland, one thing that they’ve mentioned is that at some point they were struck how there were no old people, really.

Taylor: Yes, yes.

Franklin: And I wonder if you could talk—was there a moment when you realized that everybody was either children or young adults for the most part?

Taylor: The only people who were there who were old were grandmothers and grandfathers who came to visit or lived with them. I mean, really. I was aware of that. Very much so.

Franklin: And so did anyone in your extended family ever come to Richland to visit? Or how did you keep in touch with them, with that barrier there?

Taylor: Well, in those days you only talked on the phone if somebody died. You didn’t call the family back east, wherever it was. Because it cost money. And you just didn’t do it. There were letters that you would write and then send one to one member of the family, and they would send it to another, and they would send it to another. In that sort of round robin thing. I knew other families that did that. But my grandmother—my grandfather had died young. My grandmother had no money. In those days, a woman might be a housewife, a homemaker, a farmer’s wife, and end up with nothing.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: No income, no savings. She had two daughters. So she would travel by train from Illinois to stay with my aunt for a while. And then to Washington to stay with my parents for a while.

Franklin: Okay.

Taylor: That was common in those days, that an older person would live with you. I had lots of people I knew whose grandmother lived with them, or grandfather lived with them. Or Uncle Joe who was just not quite right. Families took in family. That was not unusual.

Franklin: Right, to have a multigenerational household.

Taylor: Right.

Franklin: Like that.

Taylor: So I thought it was perfectly natural. And it was natural. I got to know my grandmother very well and learn things from her that I wouldn’t have if she hadn’t lived with us.

Franklin: Sure, sure. Well, and a lot of families, psychologists and a lot of research points to that being very beneficial, too.

Taylor: Right.

Franklin: And it’s how most of the world lives.

Taylor: She had no money, absolutely none.

Franklin: Sure, sure.

Taylor: My parents paid everything.

Franklin: Because she wouldn’t have had a job.

Taylor: I don’t think she ever had a job except butter and eggs.

Franklin: Well, she worked, certainly, right, and probably worked very hard.

Taylor: Oh, she worked on the farm, I’m sure. But it’s not the kind of work that was paid. And that would have been before social security. Because that started just about the time I was born.

Franklin: Right. And even then, women got much less than men did.

Taylor: And still do.

Franklin: Yes. [LAUGHTER] What would you like future generations to know about growing up in Richland during World War II and the Cold War? And about the work that your father did?

Taylor: Well, I think the jobs our parents had—especially fathers, because most women were homemakers. I think that meant a lot to kids. I wouldn’t say that it was a caste system, but I was very aware that a girl named Betsey had a father who was a doctor, and they had a nicer house. I don’t know how the housing worked, but all those number houses, they had one of the better houses that was a single-family house, and on a hill, and just nicer. And I was a little jealous that my family wasn’t that wealthy that they could have a better house. So that’s very normal for kids, I think, to be aware of where their family is in the scheme of things.

Franklin: Mm-hm.

Taylor: I came from the Midwest. I thought my parents were middle class, middle-educated. They both had degrees, but not graduate degrees. We lived in an average house. I was very middle. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know what else to say. But there were people who had a little more money. They were managers, they were doctors, they were professionals. And I think we were aware of that. And I think they were aware of that, the kind of cliques. High schools have those.

Franklin: Oh, yeah.

Taylor: You know, that’s all there is to it. There’s always going to be the athletes and the wealthier kids and the smarter kids and whatever. But I graduated from Columbia High School in 1953 as Barbara Brown. I loved high school. We had choruses, we had bands; we had various kinds of activities like that. And I was in the choir for four years and loved it. Just loved it. There was a teacher named Harley Stell, S-T-E-L-L. And it’s Harley. He was hired right out of college, about 1950, to start a music program, a vocal music program, and he did. Trios, chorus—I think it was called a chorus. And I sang with them and made some really good friends with them for four years. We sang at graduation. I’ll never forget that. Which was a wonderful experience. He added a lot to the school. Because music is an enrichment that students need.

Franklin: Yes.

Taylor: So they started with very basic classes. Just first to eighth grade, and then they kept adding these things. Which is what all towns do, but it was starting, as I was in high school, starting to be a normal town. And people stayed because this is where their roots were now. I think that was quite a shock to the government, that we wanted to buy our houses. We wanted to stay there.

Franklin: Right, because like you’d mentioned earlier, the community was from all over the country.

Taylor: That’s right.

Franklin: And no one knew anyone else when they came.

Taylor: But that’s a sociological fact.

Franklin: Sure.

Taylor: I think, as I said, a sense of place. A sense that this is where we are, let’s stay here and do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Franklin: Right, right. Yeah, that’s really fascinating. Thank you. Well, I just want to thank you for interviewing with us. As someone who lives in Richland, I’d like to thank you for your father’s work—

Taylor: Thank you.

Franklin: For bringing green and trees and things to Richland. Because it helps break up the heat and the sage brush.

Taylor: Well, it’s a pile of sand. That’s what it was to begin with.

Franklin: Yeah.

Taylor: We had terrible windstorms. We had a fire one year way out in the desert. And I remember that everybody—cars came through the streets and said everybody move to the east side of town, down by the river.

Franklin: Wow.

Taylor: That was frightening.

Franklin: Yeah, I bet.

Taylor: But this fire was going faster than a man could run.

Franklin: Wow.

Taylor: It was coming from the big hills over there, the Rattlesnake hills. It came pretty close. I remember that very well; I must have been ten, something like that. I remember that the wind used to cut your legs. Girls wore dresses then; they didn’t wear pants like they do now. Walking home from school, the wind and the sand would cut your legs. Little tiny cuts. And you’d feel like to go hide behind a tree, but you’ve got to go home.

Franklin: Right. Wow.

Taylor: And that was really painful.

Franklin: I bet.

Taylor: They said there was something called a jackalope out in the desert. Nobody ever saw one.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Usually just taxidermists make those.

Taylor: With big ears. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Well, Barbara, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Taylor: I want this to be about my dad. So please emphasize that.



Bit Rate/Frequency

317 kbps

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Names Mentioned

Albin Pherson
Bobby Jones
Harley Stell




Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Barbara Brown Taylor,” Hanford History Project, accessed August 18, 2022,