Karen Gay Silkwood

Karen Gay Silkwood

Longview, Gregg County, Texas, USA
Death 13 Nov 1974 (aged 28)
Crescent, Logan County, Oklahoma, USA
Burial Kilgore, Gregg County, Texas, USA
Plot Plot 539
Memorial ID 2485 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Social Reformer. Born in Longview, Texas, she studied medical technology at Lamar State College in Beaumont, Texas, on a scholarship. In 1965, she married William Meadows, with whom she had three children, but in 1972, she left her husband and went to Oklahoma City, where she was employed briefly as a clerk in a hospital. Shortly afterwards, she was hired as a metallographic lab technician at the Cimarron River Plutonium Plant, operated by Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation, in Crescent, Oklahoma. On her first assignment to study plant health and safety issues, she discovered leaks, spills and potentially missing plutonium. In those days of the early-to-mid 1970s, environmental concerns were making the headlines, and Silkwood felt that the plant management was not sufficiently concerned with worker safety. She testified before the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) that she had suffered radiation contamination, and she participated in a union strike against the company. According to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, Kerr-McGee had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified inspection reports, and risked employee safety. Following work all day, on the evening of November 13, 1974, she attended a union meeting. At the end of the meeting, she left to meet with an AEC official and a "New York Times" reporter, to provide new evidence about the safety violations of the Kerr-McGee plant. She died in a one-car accident, which police estimated was due to her falling asleep at the wheel. A police autopsy showed that she had 0.35 mgs of Quaalude, a sleep inducing drug, in her blood, and 50 mgs of undissolved methaqualone in her stomach, more than twice the normal amount needed for sleep. The autopsy also confirmed that her lungs and stomach were contaminated with small amounts of plutonium, in levels acceptable to the AEC for exposure by atomic workers, confirming the trace amounts of plutonium that had been found in her apartment the week before. Her death has led to speculation about foul play, however, nothing was ever conclusively proven. In 1984, a motion picture, "Silkwood," was made about her life. In 1986, her family sued Kerr-McGee for $11.5 Million for her contamination, but settled out of court for $1.38 million, and without Kerr-McGee admitting liability.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

Family Members




In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees


See more Silkwood memorials in:


How famous was Karen Gay Silkwood?

Current rating:

364 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2485
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Karen Gay Silkwood (19 Feb 1946–13 Nov 1974), Find a Grave Memorial no. 2485, citing Danville Cemetery, Kilgore, Gregg County, Texas, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .