Karen Silkwood dies in mysterious crash

November 13th, 1974

On this day in 1974, union activist Karen Silkwood died in an automobile accident. Silkwood, born in Longview in 1946, was a laboratory technician at a Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation plutonium plant in Oklahoma. She joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and became the first female member of the union bargaining committee in Kerr-McGee history. On her first assignment to study health and safety issues at the plant, she discovered evidence of spills, leaks, and missing plutonium. As environmental concerns increased in the 1970s, Kerr-McGee faced litigation involving worker safety and environmental contamination, and Silkwood testified to charges before the Atomic Energy Commission that she had suffered radiation exposure in a series of unexplained incidents. She died en route to a meeting with an AEC official and a New York Times reporter. Speculations over foul play in her death were never substantiated, but an autopsy showed her body had been contaminated by plutonium, and Kerr-McGee eventually closed the plant. Her life was the subject of a motion picture, Silkwood, released in 1984.

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Karen Silkwood dies in mysterious crash

November 13th, 1974

On this day in 1974, union activist Karen Silkwood died in an automobile accident. Silkwood, born in Longview in 1946, was a laboratory technician at a Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation plutonium plant in Oklahoma. She joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and became the first female member of the union bargaining committee in Kerr-McGee history. On her first assignment to study health and safety issues at the plant, she discovered evidence of spills, leaks, and missing plutonium. As environmental concerns increased in the 1970s, Kerr-McGee faced litigation involving worker safety and environmental contamination, and Silkwood testified to charges before the Atomic Energy Commission that she had suffered radiation exposure in a series of unexplained incidents. She died en route to a meeting with an AEC official and a New York Times reporter. Speculations over foul play in her death were never substantiated, but an autopsy showed her body had been contaminated by plutonium, and Kerr-McGee eventually closed the plant. Her life was the subject of a motion picture, Silkwood, released in 1984.

«   Previous Next   »

Related Handbook of Texas Articles

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With more than 27,000 articles about Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas is the largest online encyclopedia about all things Texas. Now you can celebrate the history of Texas every day by activating your free subscription to Texas Day by Day. Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles. It's one of the best ways to learn more about Texas history — in only 15 minutes a day!

Activate your free subscription to Texas Day by Day and you can:

  • Explore Texas history each day in bite-sized pieces conveniently delivered to your inbox each morning
  • Astound your friends with your Texas history prowess
  • Get in-depth looks at some of the overlooked events and landmarks in Texas history
  • Discover new places to explore in the Lone Star State
Get your Texas Day by Day delivered straight to your inbox: