She had other previous marriages and left her baby behind: Who is Katherine Oppenheimer?

She was lively, intelligent, and sexy. At a party in California in 1939, caught the attention of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The scientist was impressed by the attractive 29-year-old woman. Even though Kitty was married at the time, she did not care and she also showed interest in Oppenheimer.

By William James Published on 8 Haziran 2024 : 21:49.
She had other previous marriages and left her baby behind: Who is Katherine Oppenheimer?

The women who enter and take part in Oppenheimer's life will have a different impact on Oppenheimer's rise and fall. In addition, both women attract attention with their extraordinary features. Katherine Oppenheimer, also referred to as Kitty, is Oppenheimer's wife and mother of his children.

But Kitty is not the only woman in Oppenheimer's life. There is also Jean Tatlock. Oppenheimer, whose love affair with Tatlock continued during his marriage, had a turbulent private life, just like his career. At this point, historian Patricia Klaus's diagnosis of Oppenheimer draws attention. According to Klaus; This brilliant scientist, often described as clever and arrogant, did not have many close male friends, so female companionship was very important to him.

Katherine Vissering "Kitty" Oppenheimer (August 8, 1910 – October 27, 1972) was a German American biologist, botanist, and a member of the Communist Party of America until leaving in the 1930s. Her husbands were Frank Ramseyer, Joe Dallet, Richard Stewart Harrison, and physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II.

Oppenheimer first met Jean Tatlock. Jean was 22 years old at the time, the daughter of a literature professor; She was studying to become a doctor and was an active member of the communist movement, also writing for one of the party's periodicals. Like many academics of the period, Oppenheimer was sympathetic to left-wing views, and Jean introduced him to his communist friends. Oppenheimer donated to parties but was never a party member.

A 2013 book about the women in Oppenheimer's life describes the pair as follows:

"It was an intense sexual attraction because she was slim, beautiful, and intelligent and was considered the most eligible bachelor in American academic circles at the time. They were both people everyone would notice when they walked into a room. Jean wanted to make the world a better place, which explained her interest in communism." In the 1930s, communism was respectable, a political alternative embraced by many intelligent people... But of course, Jean's communist ties came back to haunt Oppenheimer.”

Jean Tatlock was a complex character. She was prone to depression. Although Oppenheimer proposed twice, Jean told Oppenheimer that she could not marry him. Yet they remained friends. At this point, Kitty entered Oppenheimer's life...

Kitty's first marriage was with Harvard graduate and jazz enthusiast Frank Ramseyer in 1932. She even got pregnant but had the child aborted. She broke up the marriage because she claimed that her husband was gay and a drug addict. Meanwhile, Ramseyer had a long and happy marriage with his second wife and two daughters. Then Kitty met Joe Dallet at a party. They married and Kitty became a member of the communist party. The couple broke up soon after. Kitty's next husband was Stewart Harrison, a British medical doctor involved in cancer research, to whom she was married when she met Oppenheimer. When she realized she was pregnant by Oppenheimer, she asked for a divorce from Harrison, and the couple got married the day after the divorce took place.


They were a social couple. While Oppenheimer was known for his engaging conversation, his wife also enjoyed being in this circle. However, not everyone liked this couple. Jackie Oppenheimer, wife of Oppenheimer's brother Frank, describes her sister-in-law as a schemer:

"All his political beliefs were false, all his ideas were borrowed. She is one of the few truly evil people I have ever met."

The couple's first child, Peter, was born in 1941, but the Oppenheimer probably did not want to take care of the child very much because when Peter was only six weeks old, the couple spent the summer on a farm that Oppenheimer had bought in New Mexico, while their babies were looked after by friends.

The Oppenheimer couple left their children with friends or babysitters and traveled, even though they were very young.

According to what is said about Kitty; Although she chose the wives of her husband's colleagues for friendship, she did not continue the relationship. After drinking too many cocktails, she would talk about their sex life and even flirt with her husband's colleagues. Although Kitty was a child when she died in 1972, Kitty's distant cousin Heiko Vissering says from her family's account: "She was an unusual woman married to an unusual man at an unusual time. I know she drank a lot and wanted a career, so she just wanted a wife and a husband." "I can imagine that you feel unsatisfied as a mother."


Oppenheimer, however, never completely gave up on Jean. In 1943 he was under suspicion by the FBI for alleged ties to communism. He even went to San Francisco that summer to be with his ex. On January 4, 1944, Jean, also under FBI surveillance, was found dead in her apartment. His body was found on pillows next to a bathtub with his head submerged in water. In the note he left; "I am disgusted with everything. I think I would be a burden all my life. I wanted to live and give, but somehow I was paralyzed..." Although there were various speculations that his death was a murder, these rumors were never confirmed. Oppenheimer cried at his desk at Los Alamos when he heard the news of Jean's suicide. He would later describe Jean as an uplifting, sensitive, longing creature who deeply loved his country. Jean's nephew, John Tatlock, who was born after her suicide, says family members remembered her as a lovely but withdrawn woman: "My father never got over his suspicions that she had been kidnapped, but of course it was all speculation."


That same year, Oppenheimer's daughter, Toni, was born, and this time, Kitty left her three-month-old baby with friends to visit family in Pittsburgh. However, she took four-year-old Peter with her. Oppenheimer, who stayed to work, surprised Pat Sherr, who was looking after Toni, by asking if she would like to adopt the little girl. A stunned Sherr replied that Toni had two perfectly good parents. Toni was not reunited with her mother until she was seven months old. Even though they were not very successful in looking after children, the duo was actually a good couple. Kitty was a woman who supported her husband. On July 16, 1945, the first nuclear weapon was detonated in a desert area called Jornada del Muerto. Kitty gave her husband a four-leaf clover for good luck, and Oppenheimer texted her a promise they had agreed upon beforehand, informing her that it had been a success.


Three weeks later, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later on Nagasaki. Between 129,000 and 226,000 people died, mostly civilians, and thousands were horribly injured. Oppenheimer was ecstatic the day of the test but was filled with guilt after details of the losses began to leak out. He met with President Harry Truman in the Oval Office and said: "Mr. President, I feel there is blood on my hands." Oppenheimer later opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, sought to lead international control of nuclear weapons, and opposed the development of the more destructive hydrogen bomb.


However, Oppenheimer's actions led to his appearance before the Atomic Energy Commission hearing in 1954. Suspicions were raised when her lover and wife were members of the communist party, and in 1943, fellow communist Haakon Chevalier asked her if she was interested in passing secrets about the device to the Soviet Union. He lied to hide Chevalier's identity. And all this had a devastating impact on his career. After 19 days of hearings, Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked. While all this was happening, Kitty stood by her husband. Kitty's cousin Heiko Vissering describes Kitty's stance by saying, "Their marriage wasn't perfect, but overall he was devoted to her." In the following years, Oppenheimer and Kitty traveled the world and gave speeches about humanity's responsibility in the nuclear age. He also served as director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, until his retirement in 1966. He died of throat cancer in 1967 at the age of 62. Kitty died of an embolism in 1972 at the age of 62.


Katherine Oppenheimer organized annual theoretical physics conferences to commemorate him. She became close to her husband's long-time friend, Robert Serber. In 1972, she went on a cruise with Serber. He fell ill mid-trip and was taken to a hospital in Panama City, where he was diagnosed with an embolism and an intestinal infection. 10 days later she died. The Oppenheimers' daughter, Toni, committed suicide in 1977, a month after her 33rd birthday. Their son Peter continues to live in New Mexico.