The First Women Industrial Welders Weren’t Rosies

posted on January 23, 2019

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

 

The nation is at war. A desolate stretch of waterfront is rapidly turned into a state-of-the-art shipyard, producing vessels for national defense. The huge demand for labor runs deep, and, for the first time ever, women are hired to perform electric welding on ships for the Navy.

The Kaiser Richmond shipyards, 1942? No.
Hog Island, just outside of Philadelphia, 1918.

“Sarah A. Erwin and Aina Kannisto at work at their welding machines.” The Baltimore Sun, 12/15/1918.

Although the powerful role of women on the World War II U.S. home front is well-known now as the story of “Rosie the Riveter,” the pioneering role of women 24 years earlier is all but forgotten.

Sarah A. Erwin was the first woman in the United States to be engaged in industrial ship construction. She applied for a job at the Hog Island shipyard in September 1918.

The managers put her in the electric welding department as a test of women’s abilities in this craft, where she did so well that the jobs were eventually opened to 30 more women. The shipyard provided paid training, and the women fixed bad welds in the plate and angle shop. Erwin was followed by Anna Kenneste (or Aina Kannisto) and Mary Dunn. The women had to be between the ages of 24 and 35 and be “healthy and robust.”

The thousand-acre Hog Island yards were under the jurisdiction of the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, had 50 shipways, and employed as many as 35,000 men and nearly 700 women.

Newspaper ad for women drivers at Hog Island shipyard, 10/5/1918.

Although only a handful of women worked as welders, other non-clerical positions included such jobs as drivers of “high power touring cars.” The newspaper want ads noted that, despite requiring the ability to change tires and perform engine cranking, “Women of poise and character only wanted.”

Like the World War II “Rosie the Riveter” and “Wendy the Welder” pioneers, the women welders at Hog Island were proud of their accomplishments. A November 30, 1918, article in the Pittsburgh Press quoted Kannisto as saying, “I would rather do electric welding than sell ribbons behind a counter or work in an office. The pay is better, and you have more independence. This war has driven out of the heads of many women the mistaken idea that they are only fit to look pretty and flatter their husbands.”

Alas, a generation later, on the other side of the country in the Kaiser shipyards, women would again have to blaze the same path. Yet Erwin’s contribution to the advancement of women in the workforce should not be forgotten.

Special thanks to History of Total Health reader Frank Trezza who pointed out this lost history.

 

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Steps from Rosie the Riveter, a New Ferry Service

posted on December 20, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

 

Workers disembarking from Richmond ferry, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 9/24/1942

During World War II, Henry J. Kaiser’s job wasn’t just getting ships built. It also included providing the services all those workers needed — such as child care, housing, health care, and transportation. Fast forward through history, and a $20 million commuter ferry terminal is opening right next to the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, where thousands of Kaiser shipyard workers on the home front produced cargo vessels.

Those workers had ferry service, too — a few hundred yards from the new terminal, across the Richmond Inner Harbor Channel.

A news item in the shipyard newspaper Fore ‘n’ Aft on September 17, 1942, noted, “After untiring efforts by Labor-Management committees in all three yards, the trial run of the San Francisco ferries to the shipyards took place Wednesday of last week.”

The hour-long trips went from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to the slip at the parking lot along the estuary at Yard Three. Ferries arrived 15 minutes before shifts started and left 30 minutes after shifts ended. The fare was 10 cents each way, and passengers could buy food onboard.

Richmond-San Rafael ferry ad, Oakland Tribune, 7/11/1943

The service was sponsored by the U.S. Maritime Commission and run by the Wilmington Transportation Company, which operated the Los Angeles-Catalina Island ships. Pressed into duty were craft from the Key System, the enormous public transportation service of San Francisco’s East Bay, and included relics such as the side wheeler Yerba Buena. Some of the ferries carried automobiles.

The Commission proposed four ferries run between Richmond, San Francisco, and Sausalito, with almost continuous service to accommodate the staggered shifts at the Kaiser Richmond and Bechtel’s Marinship (Sausalito) yards.

The wartime ferries weren’t the first to come to Richmond; regular service between Richmond and San Rafael had operated since 1915.

Oakland Tribune, 7/2/1944

By 1943, the ferry service was overwhelmed, and thousands of workers threatened to quit because it wasn’t running on time and was making them late to work. Under Maritime Commission rules, worker pay was docked if they were 15 minutes late. Faster ferries were put in service.

Some of the transits were quite eventful. The Klamath rammed a surfaced submarine in the middle of San Francisco Bay on July 1, 1944, (minor damage, no injuries) and almost collided with an anchored — but loaded — ammunition ship in the foggy morning of September 5, 1945.

A new auto ferry pier was one of the first infrastructure projects authorized after the war ended. Construction at Castro Point, at the terminal of Standard Oil (now Chevron), commenced in early 1946, and service began March 1947. By 1951, plans were being drawn up for a Richmond-San Rafael toll bridge. When it opened in 1956, the bridge was the last across San Francisco Bay to replace a ferry service.

It’s unlikely the new generation of Richmond ferry passengers will risk hitting a submarine or an ammunition ship, but they can travel with pride knowing that commuters to the Kaiser shipyards over 70 years ago were part of a bold social experiment in child care, housing — and health care.

 

 

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Southern Comfort – Doctor Gaston and The Southeast Permanente Medical Group

posted on December 10, 2018

Guest post by Cuong Le
Permanente Medical Group historian

 

New physicians Anne and Harper Gaston, May 23, 1955

History is often a treasured story passed down through generations. The history of The Southeast Permanente Medical Group, opened in 1985 to serve the Georgia area, is one such story: It begins with a group of doctors who had a vision of building a community focused and patient-centered culture.

Georgia native J. Harper Gaston, MD, was one leader who graduated with his medical degree from Emory University and worked as an internist at Grady Hospital. After Kaiser Permanente hired Dr. Gaston in 1961, he moved to California and worked at hospitals in the cities of San Leandro and Hayward. As HMOs expanded throughout the 1970s, Kaiser Permanente saw the opportunity to develop medical group practices in other geographical regions. After much research and discussion, Atlanta was one of two selected areas for expansion during the early 1980s.

News of Dr. Gaston’s success in hospital administration, combined with his re-election as physician-in-chief at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Hayward, convinced Kaiser Permanente leaders to approach him with plans to establish a medical group practice in Georgia. Atlanta was a growing urban capital, attracting the attention of major corporations and leaders around the world. However, the city’s lack of familiarity with HMOs before 1980 presented a challenge for Kaiser Permanente’s geographical expansion.

Dr. Gaston and Edgar T. Carlson, MD, a colleague from Kaiser Permanente’s Ohio Region, went off to open the new region. Georgia. When they arrived in Atlanta in 1984, State Insurance Commissioner Jimmy Caldwell revealed that previous agreements with existing HMOs prevented Kaiser Permanente from receiving the certificate needed to establish an HMO in Georgia for a year. Dr. Gaston turned the unexpected situation into an opportunity by spending the next year meeting with physicians and community organizations.

Doctors Gaston and Carlson reviewing clinic plans, September 29, 1985

The bonds formed between Dr. Gaston and the Georgia community became lasting partnerships when Kaiser Permanente finally received the certificate during the summer of 1985. After opening their first medical office, Dr. Gaston and a team of physicians volunteered at the Downtown Day Labor Service Center and conducted medical exams for the homeless on Friday nights. When the annual school budget ran out, they volunteered to continue hearing and vision screenings for elementary schools through the Adopt-A-School program.

Since the first Kaiser Permanente medical office opened in Atlanta more than 30 years ago, Kaiser Permanente in Georgia has grown to more than 25 offices around Atlanta and one in Athens. And the momentum continues. A recent agreement with Emory Healthcare provides Kaiser Permanente members with a fully integrated health care experience, and in the process, advances patient- and family-centered care in metro Atlanta and beyond.

 

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Really Mass Transit – Henry J. Kaiser’s Super Bus

posted on November 29, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

 

Publicity shot of Henry J. Kaiser at wheel of his superbus

Publicity shot of Henry J. Kaiser at wheel of his superbus

Henry J. Kaiser loved vehicles: He raced speedboats, built ships for World War II, proposed a fleet of civilian aircraft, built affordable postwar automobiles, and even experimented with helicopters.

What was left?

Big buses. Really big buses.

“The bus of the future” was announced in the Oakland Tribune on August 1, 1946. Unveiled to the public for the first time in Oakland and San Francisco, this marvel of mass transportation was custom built of lightweight magnesium and aluminum. It carried 63 passengers (or 40 passengers, depending on the account) in two articulated sections totaling 60 feet in length. It was operated by a driver and a “co-operator,” in charge of collecting tickets, passenger comfort, announcements, and dispensing refreshments. Each section had a toilet, and the seats could swivel, allowing passengers to “play cards or converse.”

The ride was promoted by would-be Don Drapers as being “like a cloud,” suspended on “torsilastic springs” manufactured by B.F. Goodrich. It was powered by a 275-horsepower supercharged Cummins diesel engine, a precursor to the powerplant Kaiser used in the 1952 Indianapolis 500.

The bus was prepared for Santa Fe Trailways (later Continental Trailways, part of National Trailways Bus System) at the Kaiser Permanente Metals Corporation plant near Los Altos as a prototype. Eventual production options included fabrication at the recently closed Kaiser Richmond shipyard number 3. These were intended for longer routes between train stations, not urban transportation.

In 1947 the bus was featured leaving Oakland for Los Angeles with members of the cast of the Southern California Sportsmen’s Show. News accounts noted that the bus, “approximately twice the length of the standard bus and equipped with many luxury features, will be open for public inspection.”

Ad from the Bakersfield Californian touting bus at Sportsmen’s Show, April 21, 1947

Ad from the Bakersfield Californian touting bus at Sportsmen’s Show, April 21, 1947

Alas, the fleet of super buses never materialized, although this prototype entered regular service between Los Angeles and San Francisco through 1951. At the time, Henry J. Kaiser was busy with his Kaiser-Frazer automobile company, and the “bus of the future” was one project that never gained traction.

In early 1966, the Alameda County (California) Transit Authority announced plans to roll out a new, 77-passenger articulated bus dubbed the “Freeway Train,” described as the first in the nation to be used for public transportation.

Well, the first after Henry Kaiser’s.

 

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