Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Richmond Shipyards’

Sabotage at the Kaiser Richmond shipyard!

posted on December 4, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Rondon in Trib-det

Wanted photo of William Heinrich Rondon [Roedel], Oakland Tribune, July 29, 1942

Sunday, December 7, marks the 73rd anniversary of the Japanese Empire’s attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor. Domestic resistance to U.S. involvement in the global war vanished, and Henry J. Kaiser’s early entry into the transport ship industry for the British blossomed into a massive effort to create the ships needed to win the war.

The war came home in many ways. Aside from a couple of remote Alaskan islands, our country was never invaded, and never suffered the devastation of military combat. However, it was certainly targeted. German U-boats roamed the East Coast, sinking freighters. On May 5, 1945, six civilians were killed in Oregon by a balloon bomb that rode the jet stream all the way from Japan. West Coast civilians of Japanese descent were sent to “relocation centers,” and German citizens perceived as enemy aliens on the East Coast were interned.

Between January 1940 and February 1943 the FBI received more than 7,000 reports of sabotage; investigations reduced that number to 558 actual instances of technical sabotage to industrial facilities.[i] Yet there were only two confirmed acts of sabotage on U.S. soil involving Axis sympathizers. One was at the Kaiser Richmond shipyards in California: Heinrich Roedel was convicted of “attempted sabotage in time of war” on December 19, 1942, after a jury trial.

This case first reached the public in “Escaped German Sought by F.B.I.” in the July 29, 1942 Oakland Tribune:

William Heinrich Rondon, 32, German enemy alien, who escaped from a Sharp’s Park detention station guard in San Francisco, is being sought for questioning as a “potentially danger [sic] alien” the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced today.

No mention was made of the shipyard sabotage, but the accompanying photo led to an anonymous tip and he was arrested the next day.

By December 12, 1942 the full story began to emerge in the pages of the Tribune:

Heinrich Roedel, alias Rondon, 33, German enemy alien, went on jury before Federal Judge A. F. St. Sure on charges of sabotage. He was

WWII sabotage poster, Consolidated Edison Co., 1943; Library of Congress

WWII sabotage poster, Consolidated Edison Co., 1943; Library of Congress

indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in San Francisco last month after pleading not guilty as the saboteur who attempted to burn a Richmond shipyard warehouse containing fittings valued at $500,000.

Roedel, a San Quentin parolee, escaped from Richmond Shipyard No. 3 last July 28 after William H. King, a guard, discovered him touching a match to two packages of oakum in the warehouse, it is alleged. According to the F.B.I., King, unarmed himself, grappled with Roedel and knocked pistol from his hand, but was unable to prevent his escape, arrested in Oakland the next day when an unidentified woman tipped the police as to his whereabouts after seeing his picture in the Tribune.

Previously, Roedel had been paroled from San Quentin April 23, after serving part of a “receiving stolen goods” sentence. He then worked for two months as a shipfitter’s helper in the shipyards, but on May 23 the Government ordered him interned at Sharp’s Park [now known as Sharp Park in Pacifica, Calif.] as an “enemy alien.” The next day, during a trip into San Francisco, Roedel duped a camp guard and escaped.

Four days later he returned to the shipyards during the early morning, where King detected him as he attempted, according to the charges, to destroy the warehouse by fire.


Fore'n'Aft 1942-12-31

Roedel story in Fore ‘n’ Aft, 12/31/1942

Roedel lived in Germany from 1930 to 1934, Federal officers said. He was deported from the United States once before 1930 for illegal entry, but came back again in 1936—this time by “jumping” a ship in San Diego.

The weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft carried this version of the story in their December 31, 1942 issue, revealing more details:

World War II will long be over before Heinrich Roedel tastes freedom once more. He is the Nazi who learned that American justice is as fundamental as American liberty.

Known as Henry Rondon, a steamfitter helper at Richmond Shipyard Number Two, the acknowledged saboteur tried to set fire to a yard warehouse last July, was caught, escaped, was brought in once more, and last week sentenced to 30 years in a federal penitentiary.

Testimony was given at the trial by John Wibberley, chief investigator for Yard Two, who made a tireless investigation into the case, and by William Green [the earlier Tribune article named him William King], who fought with the enemy alien as he attempted to destroy the warehouse. Green, at the time a guard, is now an electrician helper on graveyard shift.

Robert H. Moran, FBI agent, with the cooperation of the special investigators of the plant police, uncovered a criminal background which left no loophole for the saboteur. Originally sentenced to a 30-year term in Germany for destruction of public property, Roedel was set free to become a storm trooper.

Sent to the United States for the express purpose of sabotage, he jumped ship at San Diego. He was first arrested by Wibberley at the request

Roedel's failed appeal, 1950.

Roedel’s failed appeal, 1950.

of immigration officials for illegal entry into the country.


Because of wartime press restrictions and other security cautions, these cases received very little publicity. Besides Roedel, the other case involved a German national named Eitzel in Baltimore who damaged 37 Martin bombers.

In 1950 Roedel appealed the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Southern Division), blaming his lawyer, James B.

O’Connor, for giving him bad advice. However, the court determined that he’d received “diligent and effective representation” and denied his appeal.

Roedel’s fate after his failed appeal remains a mystery. No further mention of him appears in the public record.


[i] The Dunkirk [New York] Observer, March 18, 1943.

Story updated 12/10/2014. Short link to this article: 


Kaiser and IBM – a long history

posted on October 30, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Kaiser Permanente is partnering with The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose (Calif.) on a new exhibit that shows how technology can help people understand and manage their total health. We’ve been sharing that message with our members for decades, and The Body Metrics exhibit makes it accessible to anyone.

"Thomas J. Watson, president of IBM, with Mrs. Watson, watch Dora Stewart of Vancouver print checks while Glen A. Rogers, IBM supervisor, looks on." The Bo's'n's Whistle, 10/21/1943.

“Thomas J. Watson, president of IBM, with Mrs. Watson, watch Dora Stewart of Vancouver print checks while Glen A. Rogers, IBM supervisor, looks on.” The Bo’s’n’s Whistle (NW shipyards), 10/21/1943.

But before Kaiser Permanente became a leader in electronic health records, even before Kaiser shipyard doctor Dr. Morris Collen first used an International Business Machines mainframe computer to analyze medical test results in the 1960s, Henry J. Kaiser relied on IBM to process payroll records in the WWII shipyards.

At the time, these behemoths weren’t even called computers – they were elaborate electromechanical devices called “machines.” In the Richmond yards, IBM assigned seven engineers to keep them in working order.

The use of punch cards to process simple alphanumeric data began with the 1890 U.S. Census, and was a success. This led to the Tabulating Machine Company, founded in 1896, and then the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (IBM’s precursor) in 1911. In 1928, IBM introduced an updated version of the punch card with rectangular holes and 80 columns, which became the industry standard for years to come.

The Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft described the complicated payroll calculation process in July, 1943:

"E.M. Bousfield, IBM customer engineer, working on intricate insides of a collator. There are 17 miles of wire in this baby." Fore'n'Aft, 12/3/1943.

“E.M. Bousfield, IBM customer engineer, working on intricate insides of a collator. There are 17 miles of wire in this baby.” Fore’n’Aft, 12/3/1943.

Six days a week the time checkers and IBM thrive on the sticky detail of keeping track of the thousands of men who work on

Richmond ships, breaking the man hours down according to each job, and compiling tax and security reports for Uncle Sam. It takes about one man in each hundred hired to keep track of the other ninety-nine.

An electric accounting machine-familiarly called a “printer” by IBM operators–is just one step short of a robot. On the basis of intricate telephone-like lines hooked up to a board on the left side of the machine, it will do virtually anything but think.

The field time checker turns in cards marked with hours worked by workmen. The time office force sorts them by number, and posts earnings in a board control book, sends cards to the IBM operators in neatly wrapped bundles of 500. IBM gang punches the cards with holes corresponding to rate and hours worked, then sorts them by badge number of each workman, files them away for a week. At week’s end, six daily time cards are translated into a single master time card from which your paycheck is written.

Further steps involved printing out the paychecks on a continuous fold form and delivering them to the paymaster’s office, where the checks were mechanically signed. Finally, the checks were sorted according to badge number, trimmed out to individual pay stubs (thus the expression “cutting a check”), and taken to payroll booths for distribution.

"The fantastic 'brain' of an IBM machine which performs the calculating is displayed by R.L. Gagne, IBM assistant supervisor." The Bo's'n's Whistle, 10/21/1943.

“The fantastic ‘brain’ of an IBM machine which performs the calculating is displayed by R.L. Gagne, IBM assistant supervisor.” The Bo’s’n’s Whistle, 10/21/1943.


IBM and KP would maintain a strong relationship over the years. In 2001, Dr. Collen recounted this story to Kaiser Permanente contract historian Steve Gilford:

IBM made all their money in punch cards and then eventually got into computers. We got some of their early systems, 1440’s [for early efforts to process medical data]…Relevant to that is that [Thomas J.] Watson Jr., the son who took over IBM, came through and made rounds [during the late 1960s].  

I wanted to get him to put up money to go into the overall system.  I remember telling him, “If you support this, it will be good for you, good for us, and IBM will stand instead of for International Business Machines, they’ll be called International Blessed Machines.”  He laughed but nothing ever came of it although eventually we did develop contracts with them.


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Emmy Lou Packard – WWII shipyard magazine illustrator

posted on September 3, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

The World War II Home Front demanded huge sacrifices from civilians, and the Kaiser shipyards saw people from all walks of life working side by side. My uncle was an anthropologist at UC Berkeley who spent four years as a marine steamfitter in Richmond; he also wrote for the weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft – whose staff editorial assistant was none other than the well-known contemporary artist Emmy Lou Packard.14_0715_03-sm

By the mid-1940s, California native Packard (1914-1998) was already a respected artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had received her Bachelor of Arts at UC Berkeley in 1936, where she had been arts editor of the Daily Californian and the campus literary magazine Occident. She was also the first female editor of the Pelican, the humor magazine. Packard later studied sculpture and fresco painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She had befriended renowned Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and after her first husband Burton Cairns’ tragic death in 1939 Packard went to Mexico where she lived and worked with the artistic couple.


Emmy Lou Packard’s first Fore ‘n’ Aft illustration, July 28, 1944.

During World War II, Emmy Lou became a draftswoman at the Ames Shipbuilding and Drydock Company office in San Francisco, and later moved across the bay to work in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. She first appeared in the Fore ‘n’ Aft masthead on June 16, 1944. Soon, in addition to her editorial work, Packard began to contribute art to the newspaper. She created scratchboard illustrations and drawings, drew a recurring single-frame cartoon “Shirley the Whirley” about an anthropomorphic rolling-and-turning shipyard crane with attitude, and collaborated on a cartoon strip called “Supermac,” which ran from September 8, 1944, through March 30, 1945.


“Emmy Lou Packard talking to an unknown man at the Richmond shipyards. circa 1941–1945. Photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. The Oakland Tribune Collection. Gift of Emmy Lou Packard.”

Her debut as a shipyard illustrator in Fore ‘n’ Aft was July 28, 1944, with a powerful depiction of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6 that year. Artillery shells bursting in a night sky blasted above the fold, accompanying a first-hand account by former Richmond shipyard worker Richard Cox.

Although she would continue to create a few more major graphics, her forte became “spot illustrations”– those sweet, tiny images that break up type-heavy pages. Often, but not always, the graphics would accompany a specific article such as tips on workplace safety or healthy eating.

The illustrations were never credited, so identifying those done by Emmy Lou is an inexact process. Her son, Donald Cairns, has helped to try and confirm the approximately 100 illustrations she created over her 15 months at Fore ‘n’ Aft.

Packard’s lengthy obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the approximately 100 paintings she made of shipyard scenes, but said nothing about her work on Fore ‘n’ Aft. Her son’s website honoring Packard’s career briefly mentions that stint without details, but until now no comprehensive survey of those illustrations has been available.

Such an omission can be explained by the unfortunate art world disinterest in something considered as lowly as labor newspaper illustrations as well as lack of access to the source material. The second limitation has now changed; this essay was made possible by a recent partnership between Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the Richmond (California) Museum of History to digitize as many issues of Fore ‘n’ Aft as possible. The graphics displayed here are the fruit of that digital collaboration.

What do the illustrations reveal?

The Kaiser shipyards began making transport vessels for the British government in 1941, before the United States joined the war. Two magazines covered seven yards (The Bos’n’s Whistle was the publication for the Portland, Ore., area Kaiser shipyards), and many of the cartoons and illustrations in the early issues reflect what one would expect from a trade dominated by straight, white, male industrial laborers of the time – sexist, racist, and homophobic.

But as a vastly different Home Front workforce replaced them, editorial sensibilities evolved as well. What a difference it made to have a politically progressive woman wielding a pen. Packard’s work was patriotic without resorting to racist jabs or stereotypes; she portrayed workers with dignity and character. She drew women’s experiences from a woman’s point of view – numerous vignettes show children (one of her regular subjects later in life), shopping, home life, and the challenges of survival and adjustment in a tempestuous time.

When Packard left Fore ‘n’ Aft, the editors wrote a testimonial to her contribution:

“Emmy Lou Packard is a fine artist. She painted the people who work in the yards with a deftness and freshness. But more, she sketched and painted how these workers feel. She pictured man in the complicated throes of the huge shipyards, with twisting pipes and rolls of cable drums, boilers and ten-ton steel plates, and plate shop presses fifteen feet high. Always man was a part of this complexity and always he controlled the huge machines and materials.”

These are but a few examples of Emmy Lou Packard’s previously unexamined yet important work.

Short link to this article:

The wartime Kaiser shipyards offered extensive child care facilities and family health care. 1/26/1945

The wartime Kaiser shipyards offered extensive child care facilities and family health care. 1/26/1945

The pageant of around-the-clock workers arriving and departing from the yards was captured in this vignette. 3/9/1945

The pageant of around-the-clock workers arriving and departing from the yards was captured in this vignette. 3/9/1945

For many, the shipyards was the first experience in working alongside people of different races; here, black-white cooperation is graphically reinforced by the positive and negative shadowing of the ship they have built together behind them. 2/22/1945

For many people, the shipyards were their first experience in working alongside people of different races; here, black-white cooperation is graphically reinforced by the positive and negative shadowing of the ship they have built together behind them. 2/22/1945

Peacetime dreams became increasingly topical as the war neared its end; here, a couple contemplates the question that “You like pre-fabbed card, why not houses?” Henry J. Kaiser advocated mass-produced affordable housing. 3/9/1945

Peacetime dreams became increasingly topical as the war neared its end; here, a couple contemplates the question that “You like pre-fabbed cars, why not houses?” Henry J. Kaiser advocated mass-produced affordable housing. 3/9/1945

This hard-hat-wearing dinner-making mother succinctly shows women’s nonstop work at home and in shipyard production. 3/30/1945

This hard-hat-wearing dinner-making mother succinctly shows women’s nonstop work at home and in shipyard production. 3/30/1945

Humorous class commentary places this uncomfortable white-collar suit amidst a trolley full of shipyard overalls 7/13/1945

Humorous class commentary places this uncomfortable white-collar suit amidst a trolley full of shipyard overalls. 7/13/1945

Many Fore ‘n’ Aft articles featured the rich diversity of the labor force; this illustration about Latin American immigrant workers is beautifully rendered by Packard in a style that would have made Diego Rivera proud. 3/30/1945

Many Fore ‘n’ Aft articles featured the rich diversity of the labor force; this illustration about Latin American immigrant workers is beautifully rendered in a style that shows Diego Rivera’s influence. 3/30/1945

Shipyard production ran around the clock; this shows night shift workers talking to each other. 3/23/1945

Shipyard production ran around the clock; this shows night shift workers talking to each other. 3/23/1945


These images are from the digital collection of Fore ‘n’ Afts collaboratively produced by Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the Richmond Museum of History.

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Kaiser shipyards pioneered use of wonder drug penicillin

posted on July 23, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

During World War II, Permanente Health Plan physician Morris Collen experimented with the treatment of pneumonia as he managed a large number of cases in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards. Many of the workers were in poor health to begin with, and the round-the-clock ship production in all sorts of weather exacerbated the situation. Dr. Collen reflected on that challenging period:[i]

When we first started there was no treatment for lobar pneumonia, pneumococcal type, except horse serum, and the people almost always got sick with serum sickness. It was a terrible treatment, but was all we had. Then… came sulfanilamide, and then sulfathiazole and sulfadiazine, and a series of sulfa drugs, and we began to treat pneumonias with them. That’s where we began, I would say, our first clinical research, evaluating different treatments for pneumonia.

Among those experimental treatments was a new drug, penicillin.

Vial of new "wonder drug" penicillin, published in Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore 'n' Aft, 5/19/1944; copy courtesy Richmond Museul of History

Vial of new “wonder drug” penicillin, published in Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft, 5/19/1944

But this was wartime, and supplies were limited. Ninety percent went to servicemen fighting overseas, and only the remainder was allocated for distribution in the United States. Collen:

We had so many pneumonias and we had reported already in a journal that we were treating large series of pneumonias. So we got the first dose of penicillin in California, and treated a young man with a very severe lobar pneumonia, type 7. They all died from that, and this poor fellow was going to die. So we gave him this one shot of 15,000 units, and to this day I keep saying it was a miracle. He recovered.

The Richmond shipyard newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft proudly announced the availability of this “wonder drug” in its May 19, 1944, issue:

Early this year a young shipyard worker developed a growth of pneumonia germs on his heart valves. At the Permanente Foundation Hospital he was given all the standard modern treatments that are regularly dispensed there to members of the shipyards’ Health Plan. Even with sulfa drugs he showed no improvement. The rare new drug, penicillin, was finally used. He recovered quickly.

Later a 15-year-old boy developed a blood clot on his brain, following a case of severe sinusitis. Death results in nearly 100 per cent of such cases. This time penicillin was used. The hospital record reads, “Patient completely recovered. Discharged from hospital.”

Until few months ago, the Army and Navy took the whole production of penicillin. When military stockpiles had been built, the National Research Council began to release penicillin for civilian needs. It is still difficult to obtain. Only three hospitals in this area are allowed a supply. They are the three hospitals in the area which treat the largest number of patients. The Permanente Foundation is one of the institutions which is allowed to buy it.

The use of penicillin is made possible here by the financial support of the members of the Health Plan. Science’s new wonder-cure is now at the service of shipyard employees.

While the war raged on two fronts, Collen published the seminal article on his civilian treatment experiences. His summary showed remarkable results:[ii] “A series of 646 consecutive patients with pneumococcic pneumonia were treated with combined sulfadiazine and penicillin therapy with a resulting mortality rate of 1.1 percent.”

A subsequent Fore ‘n’ Aft article on the benefits of medical research boasted: “By using the facilities provided for doctors under prepaid, group medical practice – to wit, the Health Plan -they evolved a complex treatment involving a combination of sulfa drugs and penicillin that is making medical history. Payoff: Human lives.”[iii]

Dr. Collen’s wartime use of penicillin not only saved lives, it provided sound medical evidence for future treatment methods.


 Short link to this article: 

Also see: “The History of WWII Medicine

[i]“Morris Collen, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Oral History Project II, Year 1 Theme: Evidence-Based Medicine,” conducted by Martin Meeker in 2005, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2007.

[ii] Morris F. Collen, M.D. and Alvin L. Sellers, M.D. “Penicillin Therapy of Pneumococcic Pneumonia – A Preliminary Report.” Permanente Foundation Medical Bulletin, April 1945.

[iii] “Research is Good Doctoring,” Fore ‘n’ Aft 10/19/1045.



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Injured on the job! The history of Kaiser Workers’ Compensation care

posted on April 16, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Part one of a two-part series

Unless one has the unfortunate experience of being injured on the job, one is usually unaware of a parallel health care system – the medical treatment provided as a benefit through the Workers’ Compensation Insurance system.

Regular health issues (diseases or injuries suffered while not at work) are handled through fee-for-service doctors or their insurance/health plan counterparts. But if something bad happens on the job, another set of rules apply. Employers are legally required to provide benefits to employees, including medical coverage, and treatment for these injuries is carried out by a separate system of insurance or self-insurance. Care is usually delivered by physicians specializing in Occupational Medicine. 

Early in the 20th century industrial injuries were rising, organized labor was becoming more powerful, and legislation was sought to mitigate the medical and legal consequences of on-the-job accidents. California’s first workers’ compensation law was the voluntary Compensation Act in 1911, followed by the Workers’ Compensation, Insurance and Safety Act of 1913 (the Boynton Act). For the first time, employers were required to provide benefits for all employees injured on the job. The employers benefited from expanded limitations on their legal liability. The Act also established a competitive state insurance fund, and it remains the foundation for workers’ compensation in California today.

Dr. Sidney Garfield’s desert experience

Worker-patient at Contractors General Hospital, under the care of Dr. Sidney Garfield, circa 1934.

Worker-patient at Contractors General Hospital, under the care of Dr. Sidney Garfield, circa 1934.

When Kaiser Permanente founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield (along with partner Dr. Gene Morris) first set up his 12-bed Contractors General Hospital way out in the Mojave Desert in 1933, he wasn’t trying to revolutionize health care practice in America. He was simply a young doctor taking on a reasonably safe business opportunity, serving the medical needs of some of the 5,000 men working on the Colorado River Aqueduct Project who were insured through workers’ compensation.

Dr. Garfield soon found his practice foundering because the workers’ compensation insurance companies handling industrial injuries were sending the most serious – and most profitable – cases to favored Los Angeles hospitals. They also challenged many charges as unnecessary and were often late in paying. In addition, the remote setting of the work camps meant that these hospitals were the only place the workers could be treated for non-industrial diseases – something for which they could rarely afford to pay full fee.

Industrial Indemnity Exchange (which was one-third owned by Henry J. Kaiser) was the largest insurance company affiliated with the aqueduct project, and underwriter Harold Hatch offered a creative and mutually beneficial solution. In exchange for half of the 25 percent insurance premium that Industrial would have paid out for treatment, Industrial would pay that up front to Garfield and he’d promise to provide the requisite industrial care.

Garfield figured out that he could get the workers to also prepay a small, affordable amount (five cents a day), and he’d extend his services to cover comprehensive medical care.[i] 60 percent of Garfield’s income would eventually come from payroll deduction, 40 percent from workers’ compensation. The plan worked very well, and became one of the cornerstones of the Kaiser Permanente model.

Caring for wartime workers

Ambulances at Kaiser Richmond shipyard first-aid station, circa 1944.

Ambulances at Kaiser Richmond shipyard first-aid station, circa 1944.

This unusual integration of industrial and non-industrial medical care under one roof continued when Garfield directly partnered with Kaiser and operated the hospital at Grand Coulee Dam (1938-1941) and later at the seven West coast shipyards and one steel mill (Fontana) during World War II employing almost 200,000 workers.

Health care posed a significant challenge in operating the yards; because most of the able-bodied healthy men (the typical demographic for this industry) were serving in the military, those available for homefront needed job training and medical care.[ii] The option of affordable comprehensive health care was extremely attractive to the new workforce, and demand outstripped availability. Permanente Health Plan organizers struggled to add enough staff and facilities to handle new members.

Despite the superficial appearance to the end user that it was a single health plan, under the hood it still involved the bureaucracy and bookkeeping of two separate entities. The Health Plan Manual for the staff of Sidney R. Garfield, M.D., (circa 1942) clearly stated:

 Q. If a member is hurt while working on the job is he covered under the Health Plan?

A. No. The Health Plan does not cover Industrial accidents. These are covered under Workman’s Compensation.

Q. What is meant by Workman’s Compensation and how are we connected with it?

A. Under the Workman’s Compensation Act of California, most employers are required to provide medical and hospital care as well as weekly compensation to employees injured while working. The shipyards contracted with private insurance companies to provide and administer these benefits to the employees. We in turn made arrangements with the insurance companies to provide the medical and hospital services for a certain fee.

The combined health plans proved to be a powerful medical and economic engine. In August of 1943, A.B. Ordway, Vice President of the Richmond Shipyards, sent a report to B.K. Ogden, Director of the Division of Insurance, United States Maritime Commission, in Washington, D.C. He observed:

The shipyard management further realized that the type of medical and hospital care necessary to secure and maintain the best morale and productive results for shipbuilding could not be made available from the possible income that could be derived from industrial cases only.

Therefore, early in 1941 a plan was devised for offering to the employees of the above yards a Medical Health Plan at a fixed price per week. The possible income that could be secured through an Industrial medical plan and a medical Health plan was of sufficient size to justify expenditures of large amounts of money for buildings and equipment and to better enable the holder of the medical contracts to secure the large staff of doctors and nurses needed to adequately provide the best medical and surgical attention possible.

…Medical costs on industrial cases are lower than would be possible were it not for the fact that one organization handles industrial and non-industrial cases, and the industrial costs are controlled through one contract method.

Kaiser Richmond shipyard first aid station, circa 1944

Kaiser Richmond shipyard first aid station, circa 1944

In terms of running a huge industrial network, the advantages of a healthy workforce were obvious and quantifiable. Henry J. Kaiser himself noted:

In 1943, the average male industrial worker lost 11.4 days and the average female industrial worker 13.3 days of work due to sickness and injury. By far the greater proportion of this loss – 80 percent in men and 90 percent in women – was believed to be due to common ailments. This means that in the U.S. today there is a loss of more than 600,000 man-days annually. This is 47 times the amount of time lost through strikes and lock-outs of all kinds during 1943.[iii]

Kaiser used the above argument – and his successful experience with running industrial medical care programs – as the basis for a bold proposal for a nationwide pre-paid medical plan as the war waned in 1945. Dr. Paul Cadman, in an addendum to the proposal, laid out the premise:

The Health Insurance Plan follows the general pattern of the Workman’s Compensation Law, a law which has been in effect for over thirty years and has been found to be practical and workable.

Alas, the proposal never went anywhere, but Henry J. Kaiser’s health plan continued to grow bigger and better.

Next: Postwar evolution of Kaiser Permanente’s worker health care

Short link to this story:

Special thanks to Dr. Doug Benner, Coordinator of Regional Occupational Medicine Services (1993 to 2011) and Connie Chiulli (Director of Operations, Occupational Health Service Line, Regional Occupational Health, TPMG) for help with this article.

[i] A slightly different percentage is described by Rickey Hendricks in A Model for National Health Care: “Since Garfield was losing money yet providing needed services and model facilities, Hatch proposed that Industrial Indemnity prepay Garfield 17.5 percent of premiums, or $1.50 per worker per month, to treat industrial injuries.”

[ii] “…In 1944, with the [shipbuilding] program in full swing, it was rare to find a yard of five thousand employees or more who could boast of more than 5 per cent of workers with previous experience in shipbuilding.” “Health and Safety in Contract Shipyards During the War,” by Philip Drinker, Ch.E., in Occupational Medicine, April, 1947.

[iii] “Proposal for a Nation-Wide Pre-Paid Medical Plan Based on Experience of the Permanente Foundation Hospitals” Henry J. Kaiser, March 3, 1945.

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Girls coming of age inspired by Rosies’ ‘We Can Do It’ promise

posted on April 10, 2014

Gala guests to fete traveling Rosies; SF Bay Area girls to benefit

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Terra and Angelica work on a circuitry exercise in a workshop led by the Girls Scouts. Rosies' Girls photo

Terra and Angelica work on a circuitry exercise in a workshop led by the Girls Scouts. Rosies’ Girls photo

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: Christina Goldfuss, NPS, deputy director, Congressional and External Affairs. National Park Service photo

Keynote speaker: Christina Goldfuss, National Park Service deputy director, Congressional and External Affairs. National Park Service photo

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.

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Rosie-the-Riveter contingent to visit the White House Monday

posted on March 27, 2014

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Phyllis Gould, sister Marge and sister Marian and husband, ca 1944

Phyllis Gould, sister Jean, sister Marian and husband, Richmond, Calif., ca 1944

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

Phyllis Gould ca 1944

Phyllis Gould ca 1944

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.

Phyllis Gould and Marian Sousa, the McKey sisters, both worked at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. Lynn Mundell photo

Phyllis Gould and Marian Sousa, two of the McKey sisters, both worked at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. Lynn Mundell photo

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.

Phyllis and husband Buster on their Harley-Davidson, ca 1939

Phyllis and husband Buster on their Harley-Davidson, ca 1939

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

Phyllis Gould during World War II

Phyllis Gould during World War II

“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.

[i] While working later in the war at the Todd Shipyards in Houston, Texas, Phyllis Gould became a Navy-certified welder.

[ii] Burner: one who cuts metal on ships with a torch.


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70 years ago: jazz singer Lena Horne christens liberty ship at Kaiser Shipyard

posted on September 9, 2013


by Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

African-American women and men honored for their work on liberty ships at Richmond yards during World War II

On May 7, 1943, just over seven decades ago, beloved singer and actress Lena Horne visited Richmond, Calif., to break the champagne over the bow of the SS George Washington Carver, the first Richmond-built ship to be named after an African-American.

Miss Horne, sponsor of the ship, was joined by matron of honor Beatrice Turner in the launching ceremony. Turner was the first African-American woman to be hired as a welder in the Kaiser Shipyards.

The Liberty Ship, named after the famous black scientist George Washington Carver, was constructed by the workforce at the Richmond Shipyard No. 1, which included many African-Americans.

Bonaparte Louis, Jr., (at right) one of the best chippers in the yard, was among the skilled workers who rushed the Carver to completion. The keel was first laid for the ship on April 12, 1943 and launched less than a month later.

Odie Mae Embry, pictured below right at work on the SS Carver,was among the 1,000 black women who made up the 7,000 workers of African ancestry in the Richmond shipyards.

8d18719rGeorge Washington Carver, scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor, had died only four months before the launch. Lena Horne, singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer, died on May 9, 2010, at the age of 92.

Photos by E. F. Joseph, Office of War Information.




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Hannah Peters plays vital role as doctor to the Rosies

posted on July 23, 2013

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Shipyard physician achieves brilliant postwar career as international reproductive biology expert

Hannah Peters, women's health physician in Kaiser Richmond World War II Shipyards. Photo courtesy of Susan and Tom Peters
Hannah Peters, women’s health physician in Kaiser Richmond World War II Shipyards. Photo courtesy of Susan and Tom Peters

Before 1943, nobody knew how well women shipyard workers would adapt to the grit and physicality of a man’s world of heavy industry.  In the midst of World War II, physician Hannah Peters tackled the job of unraveling that mystery without a play book.

She cared for female workers that poured into the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. These women were pioneers, recruited to industry for the first time due to the war emergency.

Peters, German-born and trained in New York, had migrated to California in 1940 and set up an office in East Oakland. She found herself struggling to make ends meet and realized she needed to find a way to connect with patients who needed her.

When the United States entered the war in late 1941, Peters heard about Sidney Garfield, MD, who was developing a medical care program for Henry Kaiser’s shipyard workers in Richmond, Calif. She decided to leave private practice and join the staff of the Permanente Health Plan.

Shipyard women craved special attention

She quickly learned that the needs of women workers were abundant. They came from the South, the Midwest and the East Coast, and many had never seen a physician.

“I joined the medical department but it soon became clear to me that a gynecological department was necessary to take care of the special problems of the 23,000 women working in the yards,” Peters wrote in her memoir years later.

“A trained gynecologist was added to the staff and we established special programs to deal with the question of abnormal menstruation, pregnancy, venereal disease, sexual problems and to provide contraceptive services,” Peters wrote.

Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers take special training to build their strength and stamina and adjust to heavy industrial work. Kaiser Permanente photo
Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers take special training to build their strength and stamina and adjust to heavy industrial work. Kaiser Permanente photo

In seeing her patients, Peters noted many complaints about excessive menstrual bleeding that began when they started doing heavy work. Peters deduced that with a change in diet, to incorporate more carbohydrates for work energy, the women were worsening an already existing Vitamin B deficiency. She found shots of Vitamin B-complex solved the problem in most cases.

Peters also noticed that women lacked the stamina and strength to comfortably do their jobs. She arranged an activity program that had the Rosies (the term used to describe women war workers) climbing ladders and performing other tasks meant to strengthen their bodies to better handle their jobs.

Female workers screened for cancer

A believer in prenatal care and cancer prevention screening, Peters encouraged women to seek care often. She also urged women to come to the clinic to have pelvic and breast examinations every six months to screen for cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus and breast.

“In this way (conducting frequent physical examinations) we have demonstrated that extremely early cancer of the cervix can be consistently detected and not stumbled upon accidentally,” Peters and colleague Wilson Footer, MD,  wrote in their article “Gynecology in Industry,” published in the Permanente Foundation Medical Bulletin and elsewhere in 1945.

The physicians also distributed materials to educate workers on how to avoid venereal disease and unwanted pregnancy. In their study, Peters and Footer also looked at the question of  whether women should continue to work after they become pregnant.

In reviewing many cases of miscarriage among yard workers over a two-year period, they concluded that none of the terminations could be blamed on the work.

Shipyard experience opens up opportunities

“(Later in the war) another obstetrician (Dr. Robert W. King, a prince of a fellow) joined our group. He taught me obstetrics and gynecological surgery. . . I learned a great deal during the three years I was at Permanente . . . the years working with the shipyard women gave me experiences I could not have gotten in a life-time of private practice.

“The work with so many women of different backgrounds and coming from different cultures opened a new field for me: office gynecology,” she wrote.

Dr. Peters in her office at the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1979. Photo courtesy of Susan and Tom Peters
Dr. Peters in her office at the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1979. Photo courtesy of Susan and Tom Peters

After the war, Peters continued her work in women’s health, including family planning in India and elsewhere.  She distinguished herself over the decades as a prolific publisher of research about reproductive biology and cancer.

She founded the Laboratory of Reproductive Health in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1959 and headed the lab until her retirement in 1980. Hannah Peters passed away in 2009 at the age of 97.


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Rosie the Riveter patrons pay tribute to WWII home front “SHeroes”

posted on April 17, 2013

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

The Honeybee Trio, an Andrews-Sisters-style singing act, bring three Richmond, Calif., “Rosie’s Girls” on stage to perform WWII-era favorite “Six Jerks in a Jeep.” From left to right: back row, Sarah McElwain, Karli Bosler, Natalie Angst, front row, Malaih Ware, Ariel Norwood, and Hadassah Williams. KP Heritage photo.

Fans and benefactors of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park gathered April 13 to get the latest on the park’s outreach programs and additions of artifacts and interpretive displays.

The Rosie the Riveter Trust, which helps support the park, sponsored “Rosies – Then & Now,” a fundraising event that drew about 200 revelers of all ages to the site of the former Kaiser Richmond Shipyards.

Some guests toured the 11-month-old National Park Service Visitor Education Center museum for the first time, and some took in the park’s “Home Front Heroes” film before dinner.

The tone was set early on with the energetic harmonies of the Honeybee Trio, three Vacaville (Calif.) high school girls who performed nostalgic songs from the era, many of those made famous by The Andrews Sisters.

The trio hit the right note with the audience: with five years’ experience on stage, their act is polished and could be mistaken for the original.

In one of their numbers, the Honeybees brought back the irreverent “Six Jerks in a Jeep,” calling on three Richmond girls from the audience to take a seat on stage in an imaginary jeep.

The Honeybee Trio, from Vacaville, Calif., is made up of three Will C. Wood High School girls: from left, Sarah McElwain, Karli Bosler and Natalie Angst. KP Heritage photo.

Young Rosies on stage

The selected guest performers are part of “Rosie’s Girls,” a six-week summer program supported by the trust. The program for girls from designated disadvantaged neighborhoods focuses on teaching the students traditionally male skills, such as carpentry, welding and fire fighting, and introduces them to positive female role models they call SHeroes (female heroes).

The girls, Hadassah Williams, 11, Ariel Norwood, 16, and Malaih Ware, 16, took center stage for the evening as modern-day “Rosies,” along with the wartime shipyard Rosies who were honored as well with special introductions.

Another honored guest was Morris Collen, MD, a Kaiser Permanente physician and researcher who started with the medical group in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards in 1942. Dr. Collen, who spoke a few words at the podium, will celebrate his 100th birthday on Nov. 12.

Lucien Sonder, NPS community outreach specialist, presented a recap of the “Rosie’s Girls” 2012 summer camp; NPS Ranger Matt Holmes gave a report about “Hometown/Richmond,” a year-round park program that helps youth faced with environmental risk factors such as crime, violence and poverty.

Community support for event

The Rosie Trust got support to produce the event from many businesses and individuals in the community. Among the sponsors were: the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Blacksmiths, Forger and Helpers, AFL-CIO, and Local 549; Kaiser Foundation Health Plan; Chevron; the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions;  Northern California Carpenters Regional Council; The Permanente Federation; and PG&E.

Eddie Orton and the Orton Development company donated the use of the Craneway Conference Center for the evening’s event.

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