Fundraising dinner fetes World War II Kaiser Shipyards workers
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Gala guests to fete traveling Rosies; SF Bay Area girls to benefit
By Ginny McPartland
Rosie the Riveters who broke gender barriers to join the World War II production industry 70 years ago leave a legacy that directly influences the career opportunities of today’s young women.
The older (85-plus) generation’s work experience is especially poignant for those who are coming of age in former war town Richmond, California, where many of the youth are disadvantaged and susceptible to questionable life paths.
It’s fitting then that female Kaiser Shipyard workers, six honored in the Obama White House last week, should be feted at the Rosie the Riveter Trust annual fundraising gala, whose main beneficiary is Rosie’s Girls, a career development program whose catchphrase is: Building Strong Girls.
The Rosie the Riveter Trust supports the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in its work to collect and tell the stories of the Home Front and to preserve historical sites in the Bay Area and the nation.
The park is installing permanent educational exhibits at its Visitor’s Education Center in Richmond, which will be unveiled and opened to the public at the end of May.
Restored cannery setting for fundraiser
The fundraising party is set for 6 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the F&P Cannery, 1200 Harbour Bay South, Richmond. The restored cannery is near the Kaiser Shipyard site where workers built 747 cargo ships for the Allied Forces in the 1940s and where the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan was born.
Keynote speaker will be Christina Goldfuss, National Park Service deputy director for Congressional and External Affairs. Ms. Goldfuss, a former staffer on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, took on her new role in November of 2013.
Goldfuss has also served as director of the Public Lands Project for the Center for American Progress, and she has experience as a television news reporter in California, Nevada and Virginia.
JAC’s Vocal Trio will entertain the gala revelers with World War II era songs, likely including “Smooth Sailing,” the official launching song of the Kaiser Shipyards.
For dinner tickets, contact the Rosie the Riveter Trust.
Also this weekend at the Rosie park:
The SS Red Oak Victory volunteers are cooking up the first Pancake Breakfast of 2014 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday (April 13) on the ship berthed at 1337 Canal Blvd, Berth 6A, Richmond. For information, call 510-237-2933.
The ship volunteers have been working on the Red Oak all winter and they are excited to show off their progress. The breakfast proceeds ($7 per person) will help continue the ship’s restoration. Tours of the ship are offered for an additional $5.
The volunteers’ work is chronicled in a new photo exhibit at the Richmond Harbormaster’s Building. The show is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through April 30.
By Lincoln Cushing
After World War II ended and Henry J. Kaiser’s shipyards closed, he continued to be active in the shipping trade. One example of his support for sailors was the curious case of the freighter Pho Pho.
In 1950, members of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific picketed the Panamanian-flagged SS Pho Pho, owned by a Greek-American, at the port of Redwood City in Northern California.
The Kaiser Gypsum Company had entered into a six-year shipping contract with the vessel owner because it was retiring its own ship, the SS Permanente Silverbow.
The sailors’ union demanded that “. . . The owners of the Pho Pho negotiate an agreement bringing wages and conditions [of the foreign crew] to the same level as (that of) American vessels.”[i]
Instead of digging in his heels and fighting the labor action, Kaiser saw the long-term value of labor peace and made a friendly bet with union president Harry Lundeberg. As the ship was idled for 10 weeks, Kaiser reportedly told Lundeberg “If you win this beef, Harry, I’ll name the ship after you.”
The union campaign was successful, and the vessel became the first to be crewed entirely by union members. Kaiser honored his word, bought the ship, and the SS Pho Pho became the SS Harry Lundeberg on July 20, 1950. She ran aground off the Mexican coast at Cape San Lucas (near San Marcos Island in Baja California, where gypsum was being mined) in 1955, and was replaced with a second ship in 1958.
After the Pho Pho victory, Sailors’ union members also operated two subsequent Kaiser Gypsum ships, the SS Ocean Carrier and the SS Western Ocean.
By Ginny McPartland
To anyone who knows Phyllis Gould, it’s no surprise that at age 92 she’s making news. As a woman who’s lived her life with fierce independence and fearlessness, her persistence in gaining recognition in the White House for female World War II defense workers is merely her latest exploit.
Gould is the organizer of a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., for a group of California “Rosie the Riveters,” beginning this Saturday.
The Rosie tour group, including Gould’s little sister Marian Sousa, 88, have been invited to meet Vice President Joe Biden in his office on Monday.
Phyllis’ dogged letter-writing campaign, conducted over the years of the Obama presidency, finally hit paydirt last month when Biden phoned her to extend a personal invitation to the nation’s capital city.
“They (Biden’s office) called me the day before to tell me when he would call. I picked up the phone and he said ‘Phyllis, this is Joe Biden, Vice President Biden.”
Biden continued: “I know you were hired in the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, Calif., as one of the first six women welders. That’s pretty impressive kid!”
Paving the way for today’s women
Thrilled by the Biden invitation, Gould is quick to explain the motivation of her quest. “This isn’t about personal glory. “I wanted this visit to bring attention to the fact that our generation had to struggle to earn the right to work in a man’s world,” she said. “Young women need to know this history and realize we paved the way for them. I think that knowledge has been lost.”
Gould, a farm girl from Eugene, Oregon, was one of the first women welders admitted to the Boilermakers Union in Richmond, Calif., and to be hired in the Kaiser shipyards in July 1942.
She first earned the status of journeyman (proficient) welder by passing a prescribed test in her first year in the shipyard. Later, she was one of only a few workers – male or female – who achieved U.S. Navy certification as a welder during World War II.[i]
A long life of adventures
In the 70 years since her defense industry stint, Phyllis Gould married a burner-turned-hairdresser, raised five children, worked as a government inspector in an ammunition factory and achieved success as an interior decorator.[ii]
She built her own cabin in rural Bolinas near the Sonoma Coast, where her daughters attended high school. Over the years, she has collected discarded bits of fabric and other materials to create clothing and countless pieces of folk art and paintings.
For a time in the 1970s, she immersed herself in Native American history and culture and wore her hair in two long braids with feather ties at the ends. She traveled to a Nebraska reservation where she participated in a private, tribe-members-only sun dance, and the next year went on a class field trip to visit Native American sites in Arizona.
In the late 1970s, she became friends with the rock group The Tubes through a mutual friend in San Francisco and has been to many of their shows and been invited back stage to hang out with the band. She also attended a Tubes recording session in Los Angeles.
She traveled on her own in her pickup truck/camper to all 50 states, including Alaska, where she worked for seven summers in the 1980s as a cook for the staff of Denali National Park.
Phyllis was one of the few West Coast shipyard workers whose story was told through an audio clip and photos at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans.
She’s been interviewed about her life as a Rosie many times over the past 10 years as the Rosie the Riveter national park and UC Berkeley staff have developed materials that document life in the shipyards.
Pre-World War II life
A look at Phyllis’ pre-World War II life shows how roles and opportunities for women in the 1930s and 1940s were limited.
A carefree 17-year-old who loved to go barefoot, Phyllis McKey Gould quit school in 1938 and shortly thereafter answered: “Sure!” when her boyfriend of three years asked quite casually: “Wanna get married tomorrow?”
The couple set up household in a tiny cottage, had a baby boy and she lived the traditional life of a 1930s housewife with her husband as breadwinner and the man of the house. She cooked, cleaned and took care of the baby while he worked in a sawmill.
They bought a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle by saving from his 37.5- cents-per-hour Depression-era wage. Today she recalls learning to drive the cycle but never mastering the skill.
The couple followed a friend to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1939 and when the U.S. entered the war in 1941, Phyllis was drawn inexorably to the seemingly wild and exciting idea of working as a welder in the shipyards.
The war changed everything
“Every Sunday we went for a Sunday drive. And this one Sunday, the guys in the front seat were talking about going to welding school and getting a job in the shipyards.
“And I piped up and said, “That’s what I want to do, too.” And I don’t think (her husband) believed me. He certainly didn’t approve of it.”
Her husband learned the craft, joined the union and become a shipyard welder. For Phyllis, the road to that well-paying job was a bit bumpier.
One day shortly after she finished welder training, she took the bus to the hiring hall in Oakland. “They said: ‘You have to join the Boilermakers Union.’ So I went to the union hall.
“It was a dark place and there was this big man dressed in dark clothes, and he just said, “No. We don’t take women or blacks.”
But Phyllis didn’t give up. She went back again the next day and was again told no. The third time she was again turned away but was surprised by a man who told her to go up to the window and apply again – and this time she was hired.
Later she learned that the Boilermakers had just adopted a new policy to accept women because workers of all kinds were sorely needed as the shipyards ramped up production in mid-1942.
When she made journeyman less than a year later, her husband wasn’t happy. “Here’s this proud man who expected to be the head of his household, take care of his family, and here I am. I’m doing the same work he’s doing and I’m getting the same pay for it.”
Phyllis looks back on her failed marriage without regret: “If the war had not come along and I hadn’t gone to work I would have stayed with him, not knowing any better. And been kind of a pale shadow of what I became.”
Asserting her independence in the years following her shipyard experience, today Phyllis finds herself as someone who doesn’t shrink from dogging the White House until her message is heard.