Jean Tatlock Had a Profound Impact on J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Life

Earlier than making a weapon of mass destruction, and earlier than main the Manhattan Venture, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s focus was on a lady named Jean Tatlock. The psychologist met Oppenheimer throughout their time overlapping at UC Berkeley, and so they ultimately fell in love and dated for years. Their relationship technically got here to an finish when he married his spouse, Kitty, however Tatlock continued to have an effect on his life lengthy after their break up. Her associations with the Communist Social gathering particularly would trigger him hassle later in his profession.

Tatlock’s title is much lesser identified than Oppenheimer’s, however she performs an integral half in his story, particularly because it’s depicted in Christopher Nolan’s new biopic. Oscar nominee Florence Pugh portrays Tatlock by her romance with the physicist (performed by Cillian Murphy), her non-public psychological well being struggles, and supreme demise. Right here’s what to know.

Classic American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Classic American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

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She was a educated psychiatrist.

Tatlock’s life and relationship with Oppenheimer are detailed extensively in Kai Hen and Martin J. Sherwin’s American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the supply materials for Nolan’s movie.

She was the daughter of a UC Berkeley Chaucer scholar, Professor John S. P. Tatlock. She grew up in Cambridge (her father taught at Harvard) after which Berkeley. Hen and Sherwin describe her as “free-spirited girl with a hungry, poetic thoughts”—she used to drive her automotive with the highest down and sing—however she additionally suffered from despair.

Earlier than going to Vassar School in 1931, Tatlock traveled to Europe and stayed with a household buddy in Switzerland who launched her to psychoanalysis and the work of psychologist Carl Jung, in keeping with Hen and Sherwin. Tatlock left the journey with a deep curiosity in psychology. She was clever, with “a depth that almost all ladies don’t get till after commencement,” a buddy stated in American Prometheus. She took pre-med programs at Berkeley from 1933-1934 earlier than graduating from Vassar School in 1935.

Hen and Sherwin observe the boldness of Tatlock’s medical pursuit, because it was uncommon for ladies to change into docs on the time. They wrote:

“Her dedication to pursue a profession as a psychiatrist shocked a few of her buddies, who defined it as attribute of a generally daring and impetuous girl. And but they knew it additionally made sense. From her politics to her curiosity within the psychological, Tatlock had at all times been motivated by the will to assist others in a sensible, hard-headed method.”

By 1943, she was Dr. Jean Tatlock, a psychiatrist working on the Mount Zion Hospital and treating youngsters.

She was Oppenheimer’s “truest love.”

Tatlock met Oppenheimer within the spring of 1936, at a celebration hosted by his landlady, Mary Ellen Washburn. On the time, she was taking lessons at Stanford Medical Faculty (then situated in San Francisco) whereas he was a professor at UC Berkeley. She was 22 years previous, a decade youthful than him.

Tatlock and Oppenheimer began relationship that fall and have been collectively for over three years. “Jean was Robert’s truest love,” a buddy recalled in American Prometheus. “He liked her probably the most. He was dedicated to her.” In accordance with Biography, he proposed to her twice, however she turned him down.

Like in Nolan’s Oppenheimer, she wasn’t keen on Oppenheimer’s frequent gift-giving and flowers, in keeping with Hen and Sherwin. It’s much less clear if Tatlock made him translate Sanskrit within the bed room, as depicted in a provocative intercourse scene within the movie. Nevertheless, it’s identified that the physicist did research Sanskrit and various different languages, in addition to the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture.

Oppenheimer had a fame as a womanizer, however he was consumed with Tatlock. His collaborator Robert Serber stated he’d be “depressed some days” if he was “having hassle with Jean,” in keeping with American Prometheus. Certainly, Tatlock’s influence on Oppenheimer was greater than emotional. Patricia Klaus, co-author of An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Girls in Robert Oppenheimer’s Life, instructed Mercury Information in 2013 that girls like Tatlock, Kitty Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer’s shut buddy Ruth Sherman Tolman (additionally believed to be a lover) “helped create him as a human being of feeling and character.”

Klaus defined, “Robert is usually described as good and conceited, with out buddies. However in these relationships—particularly with Jean and Ruth—there was a depth of affection that helped make him the individual he was. They humanized him, in a approach that energy politics by no means did.”

Turner An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Girls in Robert Oppenheimer’s Life

An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Women in Robert Oppenheimer's Life

Turner An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Girls in Robert Oppenheimer’s Life

She was a member of the Communist Social gathering.

Tatlock paid dues and, in her faculty years, even reported for the Western Employee, an outlet for the occasion. She’s stated to have opened up Oppenheimer to communism, social causes, left-wing politics, and her buddies who shared related views, in keeping with Hen and Sherwin. Oppenheimer even stated in a later interrogation that his “pursuits started to vary” in 1936, alluding to the 12 months he and Tatlock began seeing one another.

She inspired Oppenheimer to donate to Spanish refugees through the Civil Warfare, a problem she cared about. Per Hen and Sherwin, he meant to donate to medical care quite than weapons. He initially donated by aid teams, however associates he met by Tatlock, satisfied him to donate by the Communist Social gathering as an alternative. In the long run, he had donated about $1,000—rather a lot within the ’30s—however stopped in 1942, in keeping with American Prometheus.

She and Oppenheimer continued to see one another after they broke up.

Oppenheimer married Katherine “Kitty” Puening in 1940. However he confirmed in later interrogations that he nonetheless noticed Tatlock about twice a 12 months from 1939 to 1943, regardless of his marriage.

Throughout a go to he made to Berkeley in 1943, Oppenheimer was stalked by intelligence brokers, who reported their findings to the FBI. They famous that Oppenheimer took Tatlock out to dinner and drinks, she drove him to her condominium, he stayed the evening, and he left along with her the subsequent morning. After he flew again to New Mexico, he by no means noticed her once more. Eleven years later, Oppenheimer can be interrogated by this rendezvous and why Tatlock wanted to see him. Like actor Cillian Murphy does within the movie, Oppenheimer says it was “as a result of she was nonetheless in love with me.”

The federal government, nevertheless, was satisfied that it was due to communism, Hen and Sherwin report. They suspected Tatlock of being a spy, and that she knew delicate details about the Manhattan Venture. Or worse, that she was spreading intel to different contacts and finally to the Soviet Union. Colonel Boris Pash sought to wiretap her telephone, however they didn’t discover any agency proof connecting her to the Soviets.

l to r florence pugh is jean tatlock and cillian murphy is j robert oppenheimer in oppenheimer, written, produced, and directed by christopher nolan

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Common Photos

She questioned her sexuality.

After Tatlock’s loss of life in 1944, letters and accounts from buddies have been unearthed, revealing that she had relationships with ladies. Throughout her psychoanalysis she revealed “gay tendencies,” in keeping with American Prometheus.

Her buddy Mason Roberson stated Tatlock confided in him that she was a lesbian, and that she tried to suppress her curiosity in ladies by sleeping “with each ‘bull’ she may discover,” Hen and Sherwin write. Her longtime buddy Edith Arnstein Jenkins additionally remembered as soon as seeing Tatlock and Mary Ellen Washburn in mattress collectively, smoking and studying newspapers, one morning, maybe hinting at a romance. Hen and Sherwin report that Jean requested Washburn to return over the evening she died, saying she wanted her and was feeling very depressed, Washburn she wasn’t capable of make it. She felt responsible about it afterwards.

The ebook Atomic Love additionally touches on Tatlock’s relationship with author and poet Might Sarton, a buddy since childhood. Per Right now, Tatlock as soon as wrote to Sarton, “Final 12 months there was a interval the place I assumed I used to be a gay,” however she later clarified, “I don’t love you that approach.”

She died in 1944 by suicide.

A coroner dominated that Tatlock died on January 4, 1944, by suicide. Her motive was unknown on the time. Her childhood buddy didn’t imagine that it was a “private heartbreak” (Oppenheimer’s rejection) that led to her loss of life. Historians stay conflicted on the true reason behind her loss of life.

Her father present in her condominium, her physique on a pile of pillows subsequent to the bathtub and her head submerged within the partially crammed tub. She had left a suicide observe that started, “I’m disgusted with all the pieces…” The information got here as a shock to her colleagues on the hospital, who believed she was an “excellent success,” in keeping with American Prometheus. Within the ebook, Serber recalled that Oppenheimer “was deeply grieved” when he discovered of Tatlock’s passing.

Hen and Sherwin wrote:

“The taking of 1’s personal life invariably turns into an imponderable thriller to the residing. For Oppenheimer, Jean Tatlock’s suicide was a profound loss. He had invested a lot of himself on this younger girl. He had needed to marry her, and even after his marriage to Kitty, he had remained a loyal buddy to her in want—and an occasional lover. He had spent many hours strolling and speaking her out of her depressions. And now she was gone. He had failed.”

There are conspiracy theories that Col. Boris Pash was accountable or concerned with Tatlock’s loss of life—given the wiretapping and his historical past of orchestrating different kidnappings—however American Prometheus notes he was already transferred to London by the point of her loss of life.

Oppenheimer was interrogated about her.

In 1954, throughout safety hearings with america Atomic Vitality Fee, Oppenheimer was scrutinized for his Communist associations, and was finally denied his safety clearance.

The examination pried into his relationship with Jean Tatlock. Throughout questioning, Oppenheimer estimated that he had seen her 10 occasions within the 5 years between 1939 and 1944. “We had been very a lot concerned with each other and there was nonetheless very deep feeling after we noticed one another,” he stated of their conferences, per American Prometheus. Such conferences befell at her residence, on the hospital the place she labored, drinks on the High of the Mark, and at his residence in Berkeley, which is close to her father’s home.

Oppenheimer added that Tatlock had needed to see him as a result of he didn’t say goodbye earlier than leaving for Los Alamos, the key bomb testing web site the place he labored. “I felt she needed to see me. She was present process psychiatric therapy,” he stated within the interrogation, in keeping with Hen and Sherwin. “She was extraordinarily sad.”

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Erica Gonzales is the Senior Tradition Editor at, the place she oversees protection on TV, films, music, books, and extra. She was beforehand an editor at There’s a 75 % likelihood she’s listening to Lorde proper now.