Being the oldest of seven children in the small town of El Rancho, New Mexico, meant Frances Gomez Quintana had plenty of babysitting time. She had no idea it would be her foot in the door of the top secret Los Alamos atomic bomb project in New Mexico.
Gomez Quintana’s family was originally from Spain on his father’s side, and his father and mother were the keepers of a large ranch. Gomez Quintana dropped out of school in seventh grade to help his siblings, then had to evacuate his hometown when the government took him over during World War II for the Manhattan Project, leaving all their belongings in addition to their clothes . She began babysitting for a little girl named Julie, the daughter of Los Alamos Assistant Chief Robert Oppenheimer, David Hawkins, and his wife Frances.
Soon, Gomez Quintana was taking Julie to the Oppenheimers for play dates, living with the Hawkins, and helping with household chores like cooking them Spanish dinners and sewing. Later, her boss helped her find a job in Los Alamos in administrative support in the mail room, where Gomez Quintana remained for the next 35 years, supplemented with house cleaning, including for the Oppenheimers.
“I used to work with secrets a lot when I got this job inside the fence,” Gomez Quintana said of his mailroom experience. “First, they gave me unclassified material, then little by little, confidential, secret, top secret. I have worked with all of those.
Learn more about Gomez Quintana’s experience by listening to his interview with the Atomic Heritage Foundation.