Special day meant to educate public
about medical trends and treatments
By Lincoln Cushing
In 1921, U.S. President Warren G. Harding declared the first National Hospital Day. He picked May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, to honor the famed nurse who set initial standards for hospital quality during the Crimean War of 1854.
President Harding declared the special day as an occasion to open hospitals across the United States and Canada to allow staff to educate visitors about medical examination and treatment and to distribute health care literature and information about nursing schools.
This publicity campaign was conceived by Matthew O. Foley, managing editor of the Chicago-based trade publication Hospital Management, in the wake of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
The devastating epidemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including more than 675,000 Americans. Foley sought to rebuild trust in the city’s hospitals as well as to draw attention to broader crises facing health care. A May 1921 Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial outlined those problems:
“The time is past when support for the care of the sick poor can be obtained through funds raised from private philanthropy.
“Modern hospital methods are expensive beyond anything formerly conceived of . . . [while at the same time] the increase of poverty and unemployment and the influx of a new and inexperienced immigrant population as yet unestablished in homes create a greatly increased number of indigent sick demanding care.”
War influenced day’s focus
National Hospital Day 1945 addressed a different set of challenges – a country still reeling from the Great Depression and still at war with Japan; victory in Europe was declared May 8, 1945.
San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham proclaimed National Hospital Day as a date to honor volunteer and professional workers for what the mayor called “the splendid record for health in San Francisco during our fourth year of war”.
Among those health care providers honored were those serving workers and their families in the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, Calif. The shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft published this editorial:
“Hospital Day has never been one of this nation’s major anniversaries, but – indisputably – health is, and will remain, one of this nation’s major problems for a long time to come.
“For most citizens as well, medical and hospital bills have been one of the major problems in their family budget. That neither of these problems need loom so large and insoluble has been proved at the Richmond shipyards.
“Richmond workers can count themselves among the select – and unfortunately, small – group of American citizens who needn’t worry about running up doctors’ bills, yet they have by their side every protection modern medicine can offer.
“To the service that makes this possible – the Permanente Health Plan – we dedicate this issue of Fore ‘n’ Aft.”
Hospital Day becomes Hospital Week
In 1953, National Hospital Day was expanded to National Hospital Week to give hospitals more time for public education about medical care.
Currently sponsored by the American Hospital Association, this year’s National Hospital Week is Sunday, May 11, through Saturday, May 17.
The week is a time to celebrate hospitals and the men and women who, day in and day out, support the health of their communities through compassionate care, constant innovation and unwavering dedication.
Writing at a time when nursing was generally a woman’s profession, a Canadian editorial writer touted the occupation:
“[On] National Hospital Day efforts will be made to bring the value of a modern hospital before every member of the community, and also to impress young women standing on life’s threshold with idealism still dominant, and aspiring to a vocation as well as seeking a means of livelihood with the view that nursing is a profession and not a business, and that in its honour sacrifices must be rendered as well as privileges won.”
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By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
“Whenever and wherever Americans gather, there you hear Americans singing, because America is a singing nation.”
This is the stirring introduction to a recording of patriotic music from the Oct. 27, 1945, launching celebration of the SS Bent’s Fort, the last tanker built in the Kaiser Swan Island Shipyards in Portland, Oregon, under the wartime contract.
“Song of the Victory Fleet” is performed by “The Singing Sentinels,” four Oregon Shipbuilding Company security guards (Del Von Zuethen, Chuck Faris, John “Ken” Rogers and Mel Gordon) who provided entertainment at ship launchings and other
After the war they continued as the “Kaiser-Frazer Singing Sentinels” at the Willow Run automobile plant in Michigan.[ii]
We’ll build and sail ‘em – We’ll never fail ‘em!
The Victory Fleet will be complete we know.
On every ocean, we’ll be in motion,
The Victory Fleet will soon defeat the foe.
We’ll have a bridge of ships beyond compare,
We’ll soon be able to walk from here to over there.
The world is cheering! The skies are clearing!
With the Victory Fleet – Let’s go.
“Song of the Victory Fleet”
words and music by
Leonard Whiteup, 1942 (1903-1979)
“Song of the Victory Fleet” was first performed May 22, 1942, at the initial wartime observance of National Maritime Day.
It was dedicated to the U.S. Maritime Commission, and immediately adopted as theirs.
Congress established National Maritime Day in 1933 to honor our country’s role in marine transportation; at the time the Merchant Marine was quite small. But that all changed with World War II .
Absent from this recording is the interlude:
In the fact’ries hear the hammers night and day.
In the shipyards everyone is on his way.
On the ocean every seaman joins the fray.
We heard the bugles blow! We answered our country’s call!
We’re ready one and all!
Journalist Peter Edson, writing his column for the Times Daily, had this to say when the song premiered:
“The song is one of those rousing sea chanteys that even a landlubber building lifeboats in Kokomo can limber up his larynx on and get a belt out of bellowing or barber shopping.
“And when you accompany the tune with full orchestration and sound effects of riveting hammers, clanking anchor chains and the blowing of full-lunged baritone and bass steamship whistles – matey, it does something to your morale.
“Morale building is the big idea behind observance of Maritime Day this year and this whole shipping program is something to give your spine a tingle. It isn’t just something to celebrate on salt water, either, with maybe the Great Lakes thrown in for good measure.
“There will be big celebrations in the 60 shipyards where, on some 300 ways, ocean-going ships are under construction.”
After the war, celebrations of service focused on those in the military, and merchant mariners were left out of the festivities. Maritime Day ceased, but in 1970 the Maritime Administration resurrected this observance of honoring veterans of the merchant marine and those who gave their lives in service to the United States. That observance has been held every year since then.
Hear the Singing Sentinels perform “Song of the Victory Fleet”
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[i] Article on the Singing Sentinels, http://weirdportland.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-singing-sentinels.html
[ii] Article in Saline (MI) Observer 3/20/1947
by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
Organized sports were a great way to stay fit and let off steam during the frantic construction pace in the World War II shipyards. Here, the Swing Welders duke it out with the Prefabrication workers, from the Kaiser Richmond newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft April 14, 1944.
Fast forward to the present day “Own Now” campaign. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) and Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) have joined Kaiser Permanente as Total Health Ambassadors to inspire young adults to prioritize their health by leading active lifestyles and securing the coverage they need.
For more on Own Now, see this release.
by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer
Even wartime shipyard workers had a sense of humor. The Permanente Metals newsletter Fore ‘n’ Aft for the four Richmond yards issue of June 23, 1944 posted this amusing photo with a caption:
Yard Three assembly 1-B instructor Mike Dailey shows off his welding position. “S’easy,” says Mike. “And you sure get out the footage that way.”
Mike demonstrated his technique to welders competing in the Yard Three June welding contest. Now all the welders are asking for instructions.
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By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer
Cecil and Millie Cutting, a couple that looms large in Kaiser Permanente’s early history, met in Northern California at Stanford University in the early 1930s. He was training to become a physician; she was a registered nurse with a degree from Stanford. They met on the tennis courts and married in 1935.
During her husband’s nonpaid internship, Millie Cutting worked two jobs – for a pediatrician during the day and an ophthalmologist in the evenings – to pay the bills. He was making $300 a month as a resident when Sidney Garfield, MD, contacted him about joining the medical care program for Henry Kaiser’s workers on the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.
At Grand Coulee, Millie Cutting exhibited her strength as a staff nurse and as a community volunteer. Probably her most significant contribution was the development of a well-baby clinic in a community church.
Well-baby clinic supported by madams
As a volunteer, she organized the clinic and went door to door soliciting funds for its operation. She had no qualms about knocking on the portals of the town’s brothels.
“The madams were very friendly,” Cecil Cutting told fellow physician John Smillie, author of a history of The Permanente Medical Group. “The community church provided the space and the houses of ill repute the money – a very compatible community.”
The Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1940, and the medical staff and their families scattered. The Cuttings settled briefly in Seattle where Dr. Cutting set up a surgery practice.
But it wasn’t very long before World War II broke out and Dr. Garfield was called upon again to assemble the medical troops for a program at the Richmond, Calif., Kaiser Shipyards. Cecil Cutting was enlisted as the chief surgeon.
Garfield’s right hand ‘man’ at wartime shipyards
Millie Cutting volunteered to work side by side with Sidney Garfield to get the medical care program up and running and to take charge of any job that needed to be done.
She recruited, interviewed and hired nurses, receptionists, clerks, and even an occasional doctor, to staff the health care program that was set up in a hurry in 1942. She smoothed the way for newcomers and helped them find homes in the impossible wartime housing market.
Thoroughly adaptable Millie drove a supply truck between the Oakland and Richmond hospitals and the first aid stations and served as the purchasing agent for a time.
As she had done at Grand Coulee, Millie set up a well-baby clinic for shipyard workers’ families, and she opened her home in Oakland as a social center for the medical care staff.
By Ginny McPartland
The stomp of little feet can again be heard in the halls of the former Maritime Child Development Center in the World War II Home Front city of Richmond, California. After a $9 million restoration project, the hammers have stopped and the children again populate the school whose walls housed a progressive child care program for the pint-sized offspring of Kaiser Shipyard workers.
A neighborhood charter school program designed to radically improve educational success of low-income minority kids opened a new site this month in the renovated Maritime structure. Richmond College Prep Schools, chartered for kindergarten through Grade 6, welcomed two classes of first graders and two classes of kindergarteners on August 11.
The two-story, 1943-built school is located at Florida Street and Harbour Way, a short distance from the former shipyard sites. Richmond College Prep Schools serve families in the Santa Fe and Coronado neighborhoods in the Iron Triangle, an area including Central Richmond known for its high rate of crime.
As a joint venture among Richmond Community Foundation, the Rosie the Riveter national park, and the fundraising Rosie the Riveter Trust, the center also features a museum memorializing the original character of the center. The National Park Service staff has gathered and preserved child-sized tables and chairs, art easels, wooden toys and other artifacts from the World War II Richmond child care centers to re-create an authentic classroom environment.
The interpretive exhibits honor the female shipyard worker – the iconic Rosie the Riveter – and her male counterparts whose efforts contributed vastly to the war effort. The exhibits will also address California’s role in World War II and its impact on civil rights, health care, child care and labor. The park service will offer public tours of the museum beginning this fall.
Renovation project not that smooth
The $9 million restoration of the historic Maritime Child Development Center was funded with federal grants and donations through the Rosie the Riveter Trust and with contributions from the city of Richmond and the West Contra Costa County school district. Rehabilitation, including the use of green techniques to preserve the building’s historic designation, began in the spring of 2010 and was expected to be completed in the spring of 2011.
Unfortunately, the almost 70-year-old building offered unexpected problems. The 17,000-square-foot center was described in 2004 as: “Threatened and endangered, vacant and abandoned, with water damage, not seismically safe, with mold, asbestos and lead-based paint to remove, and not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.” Add to these problems rain delays and utilities issues and it is no wonder the completion was delayed.
Child development center a historic treasure
At stake was one of the first federally built child service centers to be funded by the U.S. Maritime Commission. The center was established at the behest of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser who ran the four Richmond Shipyards. The workers in Kaiser’s West Coast shipyards in Richmond, California, and Portland, Oregon, set records for building war ships faster than any other yards. Richmond workers completed 747 Liberty and Victory ships during the wartime emergency.
To keep up the pace, Kaiser needed every worker he could get, including women and men of all ages and abilities. For the first time in history, women were performing industrial jobs formerly only done by men. That meant someone needed to take care of the children of the workers, many who had migrated away from their extended families in other regions of the U.S.
Henry Kaiser was not happy with mediocre care for the children. So he hired child care experts from UC Berkeley and elsewhere to develop an educational program and nurturing care program, including medical care, for the children. He funded the centers with federal Lanham Act money allocated for community services for war industry boom towns, such as Richmond, which had grown from a sleepy town of 23,000 people to more than 100,000.
The centers were designed with the advice of Catherine Landreth, a child development expert at UC Berkeley. Landreth recommended indoor and outdoor space for children to get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Music and art were incorporated into the educational program. Children who attended preschool at the Kaiser centers enjoyed warm meals, warm beds and plenty of attention throughout the day. Parents could leave their children while they worked any shift at the shipyards, and hot meals could be purchased at the center and taken home for the family.
Maritime center stayed open for six decades
When the war ended in 1945, federal funds were withdrawn for child care, and most centers across the country closed. In Richmond, however, the parents pleaded with the school district to keep the about 30 Richmond centers open. In the end, the state of California and the local school district funded the centers for many years after the war. The Maritime center and the Ruth Powers Child Development Center nearby on Cutting Boulevard are the only two remaining World War II child care facilities in Richmond. They continued to operate until 2004 with funding from the state of California Department of Education.
Richmond College Prep Schools, run by a private corporation called Richmond Elementary Schools, Inc., continues the tradition of progressive early childhood education at the site. “(Our) educational philosophy is centered on preparing students, beginning at four years of age, to succeed academically and emotionally in a college educational environment. This philosophy requires nurturing the expectations of academic success in families as well as students,” according to the school’s web site.
The Maritime center renovation is part of the Nystrom Urban Re Vitalization Effort (NURVE) that includes the Nystrom School modernization and a new athletic field for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Both projects are around the corner from the Maritime building on Harbour Way.
By Ginny McPartland
Affordable health care was an elusive commodity in 1930s America. Medical practice was becoming more sophisticated, and qualified doctors were in great demand. Consequently, private professional care was out of reach for many Americans. Employer-sponsored health plans started to spring up in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but even those progressive prepaid plans were slow to add workers’ families to the coverage.
Permanente medicine, developed by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser and enterprising physician Sidney Garfield, was launched to take care of workers in Kaiser’s West Coast shipyards. The two had done this before: Garfield had set up a prepaid plan for workers on the Los Angeles Aqueduct project in 1933, and he and Kaiser had teamed up to care for workers at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state in the late 1930s.
The Kaiser-Garfield prepaid, group practice plan for shipard workers was progressive and exemplary by all accounts. Unlimited medical care for the individual workers was provided for 50 cents per week. But Garfield and his doctors had their hands full, so initially only the worker – not the family members – was covered by the health plan.
Stuart Lester of “Medical Economics,” writes in the February 1944 issue: “The principal threat to the permanence of the Permanente Foundation – which provides virtually unlimited medical care for 130,000 Kaiser shipyard workers in two states* is the workers’ complaint that it makes no provision for their families.”
The article continues: “The family problem is especially acute in the shipyard town of Richmond, Calif., where the ratio of physicians to population is something like 1 to 4,000 and where the only hospital facilities of any consequence are those provided by Kaiser’s Richmond Field Hospital.”
In Richmond, Portland (Oregon) and Vancouver (Wash.), nonsubscriber family members were treated for a fee. Office visits were $2.25. For maternity, $200 covered prenatal care, delivery, hospitalization, C-section if required, postnatal care, and care for the newborn. Employees at the Kaiser Fontana steel plant in Southern California were the exception. In 1944, Fontana workers could purchase complete coverage for a family of four for $1.80 a week.
Physicians debate how to cover families
“Medical Economics” writer Lester refers to three possible solutions proposed at the time: an expansion of the Permanente plan to include family members; an expansion into the Richmond area by the California Physicians’ Services (CPS) prepaid plan as operating in other war industry communities; or the development of a prepaid arrangement for families through a private physician network.
The California Medical Association (CMA) launched the CPS in 1939 to offer prepaid care to low-income families in California. Initially, the physicians association’s plan offered a “full coverage contract” that included all outpatient physician services. In 1942, CPS excluded the first two doctor visits from coverage to make the plan financially viable, according to the April 1943 issue of the CMA’s “California and Western Medicine.” In 1943, CPS, the precursor to Blue Shield, had 39,000 commercial members, 5,100 government rural health program subscribers and a total of 32,000 war housing resident members in Vallejo, Marin, Los Angeles and San Diego.
“Dr. Sidney R. Garfield, Kaiser’s medical director, sees two obstacles to an extension of his program to include families: One is opposition by the local medical societies. The other is lack of facilities – particularly in the hospital at Richmond,” Lester wrote in “Medical Economics.” The article noted that expansions of the Richmond Field Hospital and the Permanente Foundation Hospital in Oakland were under way.
The second proposal – having CPS provide family coverage for Richmond area workers – had been tried previously and failed. In 1942, CPS had offered a family plan in nearby El Cerrito and was not able to attract enough members. The coverage for non-Kaiser workers was enticing: a $5 flat fee no matter how many family members. It wasn’t practical for Kaiser employees, however. To take advantage of the CPS plan, a worker would have to buy his or her own coverage for $2.16 a month and then pay $5 for the rest of the family.
According to the “Medical Economics” article, solving of the family care issue by fee-for-service doctors was doomed from the beginning. A shortage of private doctors and inadequacy of medical facilities made any such plan unfeasible. Also, California private practice physicians were admittedly just tolerating the Permanente model of prepaid, group practice with salaried physicians. One private doctor told the magazine: “The Kaiser-Garfield groups are doing a job right now that is aiding the war effort, and are doing it well. But we don’t like their system.”
Kaiser extends coverage to shipyard families
In the spring of 1945, the Permanente medical plan, now with expanded facilities to accommodate more members, was extended to the families of all Kaiser shipyard workers. “Medical Economics” reported the details of the Permanente family care plan: for $117 a year ($2.25 per week) for a family of four, coverage was extensive. It included 111 days of hospitalization, complete diagnostic services, necessary drugs, physician services at home or medical office, major and minor surgery, and ambulance service within a 30-mile radius. Members paid an extra charge of $60 for comprehensive maternity care, $15 for a tonsillectomy and $2 for a house call.
“Medical Economics” concluded the article with this statement: “Insurance men pointed out that the total annual cost for a family of four, $117 a year, is an amount which has generally proved to be too high for any wide participation on a voluntary basis.”
Workers who left the shipyards could maintain coverage for a “slightly higher” premium as long as they continued to live in the service area. This retention provision foreshadowed Kaiser and Garfield’s plans to keep the Permanente medical care plan alive after the war industries shut down.
*Kaiser shipyards health plan actually took care of workers in three states, California, Washington and Oregon, and enrolled up to 190,000 members at the peak of the war.
By Laura Thomas
(First of two articles)
Christmas 1945 was undoubtedly the happiest Americans had known since 1940, the year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese surrender in August closed the final chapter of World War II and meant the return of loved ones serving overseas and the hope that normal life would resume.
But it was not entirely clear what that would mean for tens of thousands of shipyard workers in California, Oregon and Washington whose lives were irreversibly changed by their trek westward to work for Henry Kaiser. Would their lives ever be normal again?
From a height of 93,000 employees in the Richmond shipyards in 1943, the total spiraled downward in 1945 as the contracts were cancelled, with 40,000 workers in March dropping to 16,000 by the end of September.
In the Northwest, where Kaiser had yards in Portland and Vancouver, Wash., the cutbacks were sudden. From January to December, employment fell from 90,000 to just above 10,000.
After three years of hard-driving work fueled by a strong sense of mission and new experiences, many, especially the women and black workers, were once again jobless and possibly a little disoriented.
Vancouver worker Chauncey Del French describes the last day on the job in November for the paint crews who “took off like so many flushed quail to their locker room…a half-hour later, the ‘painters’ parade’ started up the dock.
“Men and women, arm in arm, sang Auld Lang Syne in the rain. They had their honorable discharge papers and were going to collect their ‘rocking chair money’ and live the life of Riley,” French wrote in his book “Waging War on the Homefront.”
Workers in the Northwest were told to grab farm labor work with 9,000 jobs available picking pole beans. “Highest wages ever received in Oregon by farm workers are being paid out this year,” stated an article in the “Bosn’s Whistle,” the shipyard newsletter, which noted they would be displacing Mexican workers who had been brought in to do the picking during the war.
Henry Kaiser relentless in pursuing postwar contracts
Meanwhile Kaiser said he “was determined to keep the job level at Richmond shipyards at the highest possible point” as he anticipated rail car and dry dock contracts. He also labored to get repair contracts and to attract work building ships for the Merchant Marine. Despite the major lobbying by Kaiser’s top officials motivated by concern for the workers, the U.S. Maritime Commission closed Richmond’s and Portland’s yards in 1946 and 1947.
No doubt what had Kaiser worried was news in his own press. “Fore ‘n’ Aft,” the newsletter for the Richmond yards, reported a survey of Yard Two workers in December 1944 that showed 63 percent of the out-of-state workers wanted to stay in California.
Yet, in 1945, many started to move to better jobs or – as contracts disappeared and layoffs began amidst some predictions of mass unemployment – started to head home. They also faced loss of the medical care provided by the Permanente Health Plan and the much-touted child care program that Kaiser had helped to start with the Richmond schools.
As the number of health plan enrollees in the shipyards dropped, Kaiser Permanente was invited to provide care for Vallejo residents of eight large wartime public housing dormitories and, in July, its first attempt to extend prepaid medical care to the general public was under way.
But other services that eased the burden of these dislocated workers disappeared rather quickly. Richmond hesitated to step into the breach, with some hoping that cutting back on services and beginning to tear out wartime housing would prompt the workers to leave. And many did leave, but, as it turns out, not for long.
Next time: Laid-off shipyard worker dilemma: Should I stay or should I go?