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Jean Tatlock


Jean Tatlock

Jean Frances Tatlock, M.D. (February 21, 1914[1][2] – January 5, 1944[3][4][5][6][7][8]), was an American psychiatrist, physician, and a member of the Communist Party. She is most noted for her romantic relationship with Manhattan Project scientific leader J. Robert Oppenheimer.


She was born to Dr. John Strong Perry Tatlock (1876–1948) and Marjorie Fenton Tatlock.[1] Her father, who had a Ph.D. from Harvard University, was a noted and acclaimed professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley; an Old English philologist; an expert on Geoffrey Chaucer and English plays, poems, and Elizabethan era literature; and author of approximately 60 books on those subjects (The Complete Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Mind and Art of Chaucer).[9][10][11] John Tatlock was a professor at Stanford, and later Harvard, before returning to the Bay Area as a professor at Berkeley.[12][13] Jean had an older brother named Hugh.[1]

Tatlock began seeing Oppenheimer in 1936, when she was a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University and Oppenheimer was a professor of physics at Berkeley.[14] They met through his landlady, Mary Ellen Washburn, when Washburn held a fund raiser for communist backed Spanish Republicans. The couple started dating and had a passionate relationship, they almost married on two separate occasions.[15] Tatlock is credited with introducing Oppenheimer to radical politics during the late 1930s,[16] and to people involved with, or sympathetic to the Communist Party or related groups (including Rudy Lambert and Dr. Thomas Addis).[15]

She graduated from the Stanford University Medical School (then located in San Francisco) with the class of 1941.[17] Tatlock became a physician in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Zion Hospital (now the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center).[18]

Oppenheimer's association with her friends was used as evidence against him during his 1954 security hearing.[19][20]

While some historians believe that Oppenheimer had an extramarital affair with Tatlock while he was working on the Manhattan Project, others assert he met with Tatlock only one time, in mid-June 1943 (June 14–15), after he was picked to head the laboratory.[21] At that meeting she told him that she still loved him and wanted to be with him.[22][23] After spending that night together (while U.S. Army agents, waiting in the street outside, had them under surveillance),[21] he never saw her again. She committed suicide a little more than six and half months after their meeting.[24][25]

Tatlock suffered from severe depression, was being treated at Mount Zion,[21] and was found dead in January 1944,[3] in her San Francisco apartment, at 1405 Montgomery Street,[9] with an unsigned suicide note. At the time of her death she was under surveillance by the FBI. There has been, at times, speculation as to whether her death was truly a suicide or not, as it has some suspicious circumstances surrounding it,[26] but in their review of all of the arguments for and against such a scenario, historians Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin conclude that there is simply not any conclusive evidence of foul play.[27]

In a letter to Major General Kenneth D. Nichols, General Manager, United States Atomic Energy Commission, dated March 4, 1954, Oppenheimer stated her and their association as follows:[28]

In the spring of 1936, I had been introduced by friends to Jean Tatlock, the daughter of a noted professor of English at the university; and in the autumn, I began to court her, and we grew close to each other. We were at least twice close enough to marriage to think of ourselves as engaged. Between 1939 and her death in 1944 I saw her very rarely. She told me about her Communist Party memberships; they were on again, off again affairs, and never seemed to provide for her what she was seeking. I do not believe that her interests were really political. She loved this country and its people and its life. She was, as it turned out, a friend of many fellow travelers and Communists, with a number of whom I was later to become acquainted. I should not give the impression that it was wholly because of Jean Tatlock that I made leftwing friends, or felt sympathy for causes which hitherto would have seemed so remote from me, like the Loyalist cause in Spain, and the organization of migratory workers. I have mentioned some of the other contributing causes. I liked the new sense of companionship, and at the time felt that I was coming to be part of the life of my time and country.

Tatlock also introduced Oppenheimer to the poetry of John Donne, and historian Gregg Herken believes that he named the first test of a nuclear weapon "Trinity" in reference to Donne’s poem, as a tribute to Tatlock.[15][29]


  1. ^ a b c "’96 Harvard College — Class 1896". Harvard College: Class of 1896 Thirty-fifth Anniversary Report. Norwood, Mass.: Plimpton Press. Number VIII. June, 1931.
  2. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census for Alameda County, California.
  3. ^ a b Herken, Gregg (2003). Brotherhood of the Bomb. New York: Henry Holt and Company, p. 119. ISBN 978-0-8050-6589-3.
  4. ^ Herken, Greeg. Letters to the Editor: "Comment on book review of: Brotherhood of the Bomb by Gregg Herken [Am. J. Phys. 71 (4), 411–15 (2003)]". American Journal of Physics. July 2003. Volume 71, Issue 7, p. 647.
  5. ^ Crease, Robert P. (1998). Peace & War: Reminiscences of a Life on the Frontiers of Science, p. 86.
  6. ^ Pais, Abraham, and Robert P. Crease (2006). J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life, p. 36.
  7. ^ Porter, Neil A. (1998). Physicists in Conflict: From Antiquity to the New Millennium, p. 133.
  8. ^ Thorpe, Charles (2006). Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect, p. 55.
  9. ^ a b Kashner, Sam, and Jennifer MacNair (2003). The Bad & the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties, p. 65.
  10. ^ Tatlock, John S. P. (John Strong Perry) 1876-1948. WorldCat.
  11. ^ Search: John S P Tatlock. WorldCat.
  12. ^ "Between the wars: 1914–45". Sandstone & Tile. Winter/Spring 2002. Stanford Historical Society. Volume 26, No. 1.
  13. ^ Hart, W. M., I. M. Linforth, and B. H. Lehman (1948). John Strong Perry Tatlock, English: Berkeley. 1948, University of California: In Memoriam. The Regents of The University of California.
  14. ^ Bird, Kai, and Martin J. Sherwin (2005). American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41202-8.
  15. ^ a b c Herken, p. 29.
  16. ^ Bird and Sherwin, p. 114.
  17. ^ Stanford University Yearbook — 1941. School of Medicine. Stanford University, p. 176.
  18. ^ "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Authors to Discuss Oppenheimer". University of California. October 23, 2006.
  19. ^ Evans, Ward V. "Findings and Recommendations of the Personnel Security Board in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer", United States Atomic Energy Commission (c/o Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law Library, Yale Law School). May 27, 1954.
  20. ^ Smyth, Henry D. "Decision and Opinions of the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer" (c/o Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law Library, Yale Law School). June 29, 1954.
  21. ^ a b c Herken, pp. 1–2.
  22. ^ Oppenheimer, J. Robert, Alice Kimball Smith, and Charles Weiner (1995). Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections, p. 262.
  23. ^ Chafe, William Henry. The Achievement of American Liberalism, p. 141.
  24. ^ Bird, Kai, and Martin J. Sherwin (2005). American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41202-8.
  25. ^ Conant, Jennet. 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-5007-8
  26. ^ , pp. 139-140The Death of James ForrestalCornell Simpson,
  27. ^ Bird and Sherwin, pp. 249-54.
  28. ^ Personal correspondence, J. Robert Oppenheimer to Kenneth D. Nichols, March 4, 1954, in: United States Atomic Energy Commission In The Matter Of J.Robert Oppenheimer. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954, p. 6.
  29. ^ Herken, p. 129.
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