, Heritage writer
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.
, Heritage writer
Second in a series
Forty-five years ago, in May 1966, nurses from Kaiser Permanente facilities in Vallejo, Richmond and Napa became the first nurses in California history to conduct a work action. Little did these registered nurses know that their bold stance would force society to review their status and ultimately elevate the nursing profession for all time.
The 85 registered nurses, represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA), voted to picket the facilities when negotiations broke down over salary. The nurses were asking for a $50 per month raise, bringing the regular nurse salary from $480 to $530 per month and from $520 to $570 for head nurses.
CNA rejected a Permanente offer of a $35 per month raise and on May 17 authorized the nurses to demonstrate. At the time, CNA had a no-strike clause in its agreement with Permanente and was not yet an official collective bargaining agent for Kaiser Permanente nurses. The nurses investigated joining another union, the Office and Technical Workers, Local 29, Oakland, according to an article in the Oakland Tribune, May 6, 1966.
During this breakdown in negotiations, CNA spokesman Ralph Hartley told the papers that X-ray technicians, who were not required to be formally trained, were making $466 to $532 a month, about the same as the nurses. He added: “We take the view that registered nurses are next to doctors in patient care and should be recognized accordingly.”
Nurse protests spread to Oakland and across Bay Area
The dispute intensified when the nurses expanded their picketing activities to Oakland on June 6 and aroused interest in their cause from a broader base of KP nurses. Meanwhile, ninety-one out of 107 staff registered nurses at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley threatened to resign their positions if their salary demands were not met.
Eden nurses complained that gardeners at their hospital were making more than a staff nurse. Eden nurse spokesperson Wilma McCarthy told the Tribune that nurse duties had expanded in recent years to include intravenous feeding, blood pressure readings, cardiac resuscitation and drug administration. “These are very important functions, and (a nurse) often must perform them through two straight shifts, yet she makes less than the hospital gardener.”
On July 10, the Eden nurses made good their promise to resign and walked out en masse, staying out from Sunday until Wednesday, July 14, when their hospital board agreed to entertain their salary demands. “They’ve been kicked around so long in every way that nobody thought they’d do this,” said CNA agent Ralph Hartley. “It’s a revolution.” Hartley said he believed this was the first time in labor history that nurses had abandoned their posts over salary or working conditions.
Meanwhile, the CNA was urging its growing number of Bay Area members to submit resignations as a technique to pressure their employers to meet their wage demand. By the time Eden settled its impasse, more than 2,000 nurses employed by Bay Area hospitals had threatened to resign as well. A spokesman for the hospitals told the Oakland Tribune the employers were considering seeking a court injunction to halt the resignations. The hospital owners saw mass resignations as a de facto violation of the no-strike clause in their agreements with nurses.
On July 11, about 700 Kaiser Permanente registered nurses met in San Francisco and voted to resign if CNA’s salary demands on their behalf weren’t met. Soon after, CNA put in a petition to represent all KP registered nurses in facilities north of the Tehachapi. On July 18, the CNA turned down an offer for a 20% increase to be spread over a three-year period. On July 21, KP hospitals board raised the salary of all staff nurses by $60 a month, bringing the pay range up to $500 to $570. CNA negotiators did not accept the $60 as sufficient and actually increased their demands up to a range of $600 to $720 per month. Most Bay Area hospitals granted an across-the-board increase of $50 or $60 to their nurses, but in most cases the nurses considered it too little too late.
Nurse mass resignations spawn governor’s fact-finding committee, 1966
The hospital administrators stuck together during this critical period, which ended up being truly ground-breaking for the nursing profession. On July 29, 1966, the hospitals placed an almost full-page ad in the Oakland Tribune pleading their case and showing a comparison between the hospitals’ offers and CNA demands. They proposed asking Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown to appoint a fact-finding committee to study the issue and make recommendations. By this time, about 2,275 nurses had threatened to resign. The hospitals titled their ad “A solution to the hospitals-nurses dispute.” Twenty-one East Bay and San Francisco hospitals, as well as the Kaiser Permanente hospitals of Northern California, were listed as signatories.
Hospital representatives reasoned that submitting the issues to a fact-finding panel could avert the crisis inherent in mass nurse resignations. “We will expect the Fact-Finders to explore fully the area of nursing salaries and fringe benefits. We will expect them to study the relationship of nurses’ pay to their experience and tenure, to their position in the entire hospital wage structure, and to nurses’ salaries in other comparable areas,” the hospitals’ statement said.
After some haggling over nurses’ interim pay, both sides agreed to put their faith in the independent panel charged with resolving the conflict. Brown appointed the Rev. Leo C. Brown, S.J., a research associate at the University of Cambridge Center for Social Studies, as panel chairman, along with Adolph M. Koven, a San Francisco attorney, and Howard Durham, professor of industrial relations at the College of San Mateo. Undoubtedly, the panel’s conclusions shocked everyone.
Panel urges 40 percent salary increase for Bay Area registered nurses
In announcing the panel’s recommendation for a 40 percent salary increase for Bay Area registered nurses, Father Brown acknowledged the dramatic increase would be a bitter pill for hospitals – and patients – to swallow. He said the panel “is fully aware that its recommendation will have a far-reaching effect on the cost of hospitalization and that the public will ultimately pay more for medical care. Raising the salaries of experienced nurses to $700 per month and beginning nurses to $600 per month was estimated to cost Bay Area hospitals about $7 million more per year beginning in 1967 when the raises were fully implemented. Hospitals spokesman Laurence P. Corbett said agreement was reached among the hospitals “after bloody meetings on both sides of the Bay.” He said the increase will upgrade the professionalism of nurses and that hospitals were already finding ways to relieve nurses of non-skilled duties.
Panelist Adolph M. Koven told the Tribune: “The whole picture of the nurse as a self-sacrificing Florence Nightingale is going to be changed to a professional Florence Nightingale adequately compensated. Hospitals and nurses throughout the country will look to this settlement as a framework for further bargaining. An inescapable result will be higher standards of patient care.” Predictions that other hospital workers would demand higher pay as well came true almost immediately. In December 1966 Kaiser Permanente negotiated agreements with Local 250 of the Hospital and Institutional Workers for raises ranging from $5 to $105 per month for 2,200 hospital workers, including licensed vocational nurses who got the biggest raises, from $397 per month to $500 for LVNs with four or more years’ experience. Other hospitals in the area negotiated similar increases for their workers.
(Next time: Nursing shortage impacts hospital staffing levels in 1970s and 1980s.)
, Heritage writer
Joe Fischer is no stranger to art. He’s no stranger to children’s art. A Berkeley resident and former UC Berkeley professor, Joe Fischer has written five books on Indonesian art and culture. He spent 25 years visiting and studying Indonesia, and he has been curator of many exhibits on Indonesian traditional art and children’s art.
Joe Fischer is also no stranger to war. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II and visited the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki within two weeks after their destruction by Allied atomic bombs.
So when Joe heard about the rich collection of children’s art from the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards child care centers, needless to say, he was intrigued. The more he explored the boxes full of children’s paintings and cut-and-paste artwork preserved at the Richmond Museum of History, the more fascinated he became.
Joe quickly understood the significance of the children’s uninhibited observations of life on the home front. Given the creation in 2000 of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front national park in Richmond, Joe’s passion for bringing the art to light seemed to hit the right note. Sharing his enthusiasm with the staff of the new park, they agreed the museum had indeed captured a national treasure-trove.
The little noticed collection of 5,000-plus pieces brims with creativity,individuality, emotion and small-child confidence. Joe’s diligent study and interpretation of the art –and the enthusiastic support of the museum board of directors – culminated this summer in the publication of “Children’s Art & Children’s Words.” The book includes 185 color plates of the artwork, as well as direct quotes from the 2- to 12-year-olds about their masterpieces as told to their teachers.
Focus on individual artists
“The focus (of this book) is on the paintings of individual children, comments by them and their teachers, and the environment in which this took place,” Joe says in the introduction. “The child care program in all its various aspects was an extraordinary educational model. It provided care, nurture, materials, and creative outlets for thousands of children. Such a comprehensive child care program had probably never existed in the United States before the war nor has one been developed since, he adds.
The children’s art collection, which includes pieces from 1943 through 1966, only exists due to the foresight of the late Monica Haley, longtime art director of the child care centers. She retained the children’s work and their comments conscientiously, realizing their historical value. Subsequent to her retirement in 1966, Haley donated the entire collection to the Richmond Museum of History. Richmond’s child care centers’ art created after that date has been lost to history. Joe devotes a whole chapter of the book to Haley.
Kaiser child care breaks new ground
The Richmond child care program began in 1943 through the collaboration of Henry J. Kaiser, the U.S. Maritime Commission and the Richmond school district. Kaiser, who ran the shipyards, saw the critical need for high quality, around-the-clock care for the children of mothers working on ships. Although society had frowned on mothers working outside the home, the war urgency put that attitude on hold.
Kaiser worked through the Maritime Commission to obtain funds to build and subsidize the centers, and the school district received federal funds. The Lanham Act set up wartime funding to help war production communities, like Richmond, accommodate ballooning populations. The federal money earmarked initially for fire stations, roads, schools, and other local services, was also approved for construction and operation of child care centers.
The Richmond child care program had 14 sites during the war years. Set up by the best child care experts of the time, including Catherine Landreth, PhD, of the UC Berkeley Institute of Child Welfare, the program was groundbreaking. The buildings were thoughtfully designed to make the environment comfortable and healthy for children.
The routine included a health check, nutritious meals planned by a dietitian, plenty of rest, outside play, and lessons in art and music. There were sleeping rooms for naps and overnight stays, child-sized sinks and toilets, lockers, and a sick room to isolate ailing students. The school district took care in making the experience educational and stimulating. For all this, the parents paid 50 cents a day, 60 cents if they had breakfast.
Bubble bursts when war ends
After the war, the shipyards closed and the federal funding for child care centers dried up. But there were still many women in Richmond and many other places who wanted or needed to continue working. So the Richmond community lobbied the federal and state government to continue the funding. They were successful, and California became one of only few states that continued child care after the war.
At the same time, the Kaiser Shipyards child care programs in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, shut down completely. The Northwest child care centers, also influenced by UC Berkeley child development experts, did not have the community support needed to keep them open. However, experience in these child care centers contributed invaluably to the study of child development, and the legacy informs current practice.
The Richmond schools continued to operate preschools on essentially the same wartime principles until around 1967. A variety of federal, state and local funding sources, including Head Start, have continued a semblance of the program to the present.
One of the original Kaiser-built centers, the Maritime Child Development Center at 10th and Florida streets in Richmond, has been designated a national historical landmark. Renovation of the center is under way, and Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park museum curators are collecting and interpreting historical artifacts, such as furniture from the original wartime program. The center, to house classrooms and a National Park Service museum, is scheduled to open in 2011.
The Richmond Museum of History also operates the restored SS Red Oak Victory, a World War II ship built in Richmond and docked at the Rosie the Riveter national park. To find out more: ssredoakvictory.org.
Opening a Prepaid Health Plan to the Public 65 Years Ago this Month, Kaiser Permanente Begins Its Post-World War II Lifeposted on July 22, 2010
, Heritage writer
Sixty-five years ago this month the curtain was about to fall on the dreadful years of World War II, and Dr. Sidney R. Garfield and industrialist Henry J. Kaiser were raising the curtain on their plans to expand their prepaid Permanente Foundation Health Plan—later renamed Kaiser Foundation—beyond Kaiser’s employees to the general public.
So it was, in July 1945, that they announced that the “first large extension of the family health plan” beyond Kaiser workers would be in Vallejo, California, about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.
The idea of going to Vallejo with a Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospital resulted from a grassroots invitation from citizens there—a sort of populist request for prepaid medical care. That should come as no surprise. The new medical care program—nicknamed “a Mayo Clinic for the common man” by one writer of the era—had been a hit with workers in the wartime Kaiser Shipyards in nearby Richmond and was getting nationwide media notice.
“I don’t see why this can’t be done everywhere, for everyone,” said one shipyard worker. “This should be for everybody,” added another. “We must organize and demand this not only for us workers but for all their families. It should be for everybody in America.”
Against that backdrop, Kaiser Permanente was invited to town by a tenants’ council of the Vallejo Housing Authority to provide care for residents of eight large wartime public housing dormitories. A doctor was assigned to each dormitory and a clinic was set up within an existing public health service infirmary.
Meanwhile, with the cooperation of local physicians, a citizen’s committee had unraveled wartime bureaucracies to get the government-sponsored Vallejo Community Hospital opened in 1944. It was needed because the Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo and the nearby Benicia Arsenal ordnance facility had drawn thousands of wartime civilian workers. The city’s few doctors had been swamped by a flood of new patients.
However, with the war ending, the government was no longer willing to support a community hospital. The military-style facility—long, low buildings spread over 30 acres—closed after the war ended in August, leaving thousands of civilian families without medical care.
Before long, the not-for-profit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan needed a full service hospital in Vallejo. So, on April 1, 1947, Kaiser Permanente re-opened the 250-bed Vallejo Community Hospital as its own, having first leased it as surplus property from the Federal Works Agency. Later, it bought the hospital at the site where Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center remains to this day.
“This…marks the beginning of efforts now underway by the Kaiser organization to offer Permanente Foundation facilities to all groups interested in complete prepaid medicine,” the July 1945 announcement read. The existing facilities were those on the Home Front of World War II serving Henry Kaiser’s shipyards and steel mill. They were in Richmond, Oakland, and Fontana in California and in Vancouver in Washington state.
A few days later, Clyde F. Diddle, administrator of the Oakland Medical Center, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the Oakland hospital was being opened to the public under four principles: prepayment, group medical practice, adequate facilities, and “a new medical economy.”
“This ‘new economy,’ strongly opposed in part by some factions favoring the traditional family physician-patient relationship, follows the old Chinese practice of paying the physician while you are well,” the Chronicle said.
Added Diddle, “We offer medical service from nasal spray to surgery—and all under one roof. The important thing is that there are no barriers to early treatment. …Patients are encouraged to come in early…”
The Chronicle article also reported that Henry Kaiser was preparing a proposal for Congress to establish a nationwide system of voluntary prepaid medical care. This would be the first of many continuing efforts to support Sidney Garfield’s dream of health care for all Americans that have continued to the present day.
These historic events are honored today by the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, which includes historic sites of the wartime medical care program. Notes National Park Service interpretative materials: “Today, prepaid medical care is central to American culture—it is a legacy of the WWII Home Front.”
Forecasts in 1945 projected eventually serving about 25,000 people in Vallejo. Today, the Vallejo Medical Centers serves about 10 times that number in California’s Napa and Solano counties alone. The entire Kaiser Permanente multi-state program serves 8.6 million members.
The “official” date for Kaiser Permanente’s opening to the public became Oct. 1, 1945, but the work got under way in earnest starting in July.
In 1942, eighteen year-old Lucille “Penny” Price joined the shipyard workforce with little idea what lay ahead for her. Read on to hear a poignant account of what those days were like and the daunting challenges Penny faced.
Building warships was a dangerous enterprise. Workers in the Richmond shipyards during World War II learned the hard way how easy it was to be injured when working at a furious speed to fulfill orders for sorely needed war vessels.
The odd mix of people who converged at the Kaiser shipyards added to the complexity and worry associated with the safety of workers of all levels of skill and socialization. The majority of them had little or no experience building ships.
There were black and white men and women from the agrarian southern states and other parts of the country. There were native San Francisco Bay Area women and men. There were men who had medical conditions that totally disqualified them from serving in uniform (Class 4F). There were handicapped workers.
Injuries minor and major were common. In fact, working in a shipyard was one of the most dangerous jobs in the wartime industries, more risky than the manufacture of tanks, aircraft, and explosives. The shipyards of America reported an average of 33 disabling injuries per million hours worked in 1943. (This compared favorably to the iron and steel foundries whose average accident rate was 40 injuries per million hours worked.) About 700 shipyard workers were killed during 1943 and 1944 in accidents in the nation’s shipyards.*
Some injuries were purely accidental, some were from carelessness, and others were simply vicious.
“It Wasn’t All Beer and Skittles…”
An eighteen-year-old Oakland girl, Lucille “Penny” Price, joined the shipyard workforce in October 1942. She made good money as an electrician and considered the wartime work a great opportunity. She sums up the experience in this casual understatement: “It wasn’t all beer and skittles.”**
Price, an electrician in Yard 3, was almost scared away from the shipyards when she witnessed a fatal accident on her first night of work. A guide was taking a group of new employees, including Price, on an orientation tour when they heard “beep, beep, beep,” the sound of a crane in motion. “The guide was telling us that when you hear that sound you get the heck out of the way and stay away,” Price recalled. But some other workers didn’t heed the warning sound, and as the crane lifted a heavy sheet of steel aboard a ship, one of the cables broke and the load slipped and killed several of them.
“I tell you I was ready to run, and so were the other people in our group of electricians,” she said.
Price was quickly reassigned to the relative safety of the electrical shop to give her time to get over the shock. She stuck it out and by Christmas was wiring C-4 transporters and LSTs (landing ship, tanks) and continued to work in the yards until early 1945. During her tenure there, she would experience many injuries herself.
Threatened by Male Counterparts
Now 84 years old and living in Windsor, Calif., Price recalls the time a “chauvinist” kicked a ladder out from underneath her and caused her to fall over a stack of pipes. The man who made her fall was fined and fired, never to work again in the shipyards. Penny was taken to the shipyard Field Hospital where she was treated for two cracked ribs.
Price also recalls that men also liked to sneak up on her while she was working from a plank stretched across the open deck with six floors below. “They’d make the board vibrate and that scared the hell out of me.”
Male shipyard workers’ poor treatment of their female counterparts was not uncommon. “When women managed to enter jobs that seemed still to be the prerogatives of men, they were sometimes mistreated; “harassed” is the word we would use nowadays,” said Columbia University professor http://www.columbia.edu/cu/history/fac-bios/Kessler-Harris/faculty.html Alice Kessler-Harris in an interview on PBS.
“Men often played tricks on women by sending them for tools that did not exist. Men also sexually harassed women by whistling and cat-calling to them as they worked. Most of the resistance and hostility towards women workers disappeared as the novelty of women workers wore off, the labor shortage got worse, and women proved themselves, according to Susan M. Hartmann, http://history.osu.edu/people/person.cfm?ID=695 author of The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s.
Victim of Double Pneumonia—Before the Days of Penicillin
Penny Price was also a victim of double pneumonia that developed after she was caught in a dark corner on the same level as a dozen hostile workmen during an air raid warning drill. Price had been doing some wiring by herself above the shaft alley when the “whoop, whoop” of the siren came and the lights went out. She huddled in a space near a boiler for two hours, shaking with fear as the burly workers made comments like: “Wait ‘til I get my hands on that little chick over there.”
When the drill was over, her leaderman, Charlie Ryder, swooped her up from the spooky pit. She couldn’t stop shivering, so her coworkers gave her coffee to warm her up. “To this day, I can’t stand the smell of coffee with cream in a paper cup.” She “upchucked” the coffee that night at home and returned to work the next day thinking she was fine. But the shaking returned, and she was taken to the field hospital where they took a chest X-ray and diagnosed double pneumonia.
This was in March 1943 before penicillin was available to civilians. At the Oakland hospital where our doctors were perfecting the treatment of pneumonia, she was given a “horrendous” clear liquid (probably horse or rabbit serum) every few hours. That liquid along with oxygen therapy cured her of the mysterious pneumonia.
During the war, Permanente physician Morris Collen experimented with the treatment of pneumonia as he managed a large number of shipyard cases. By the end of the war, Collen had published his findings and earned a national reputation as a pneumonia guru. His prestige was such that he was able to get some of the first civilian penicillin in 1944 to save the lives of the 7-year-old daughter of a shipyard worker in Vancouver, Wash., and a young man in a Richmond yard.
Hospital Visits—Much Too Frequent
Throughout her time at the shipyards, Penny Price was injured numerous times and was a frequent visitor to the First Aid Station and the Field Hospital. “I was in and out of the Field Hospital like a yoyo,” she said. She frequently cut herself using a linoleum knife to cut electrical cable. She vividly recalls the inside-out eyelid treatment administered when she got bits of steel mesh from the cable in her eyes. She also recalls that when working around fiberglass she sometimes got particles down her neck that irritated like a thousand flea bites.
Her most serious injury was caused by an accidental explosion that knocked her down from the ship’s superstructure onto the deck below where workers were using acetylene torches to shrink the deck. As a result of the fall, she suffered burns and an injury to her knee when it struck a bolt on the deck. She was burned so badly that she had to return for treatment for nine months before her leg was healed. “I still have scars on my leg to this day,” she said. She returned to work after a short hospital stay wearing a splint on her knee wound.
Price remembers an inspector coming around to urge the workers to follow the Maritime Commission safety rules to avoid injuries. “He’d show us a glass eye and say ‘do you want one of these?’” We’d shudder, and he would say: ‘then, wear your goggles!”
Safety Program Launched in 1943
In 1943, the U.S. Maritime Commission launched a safety program that ultimately reduced the injuries per million hours worked in the shipyards to 23.2 in 1944. “The work of the (commission) was of value in two ways – by allaying fears that working in a shipyard was more dangerous to life and limb than working somewhere else, and by making this true through insistence on a high standard of protection and precaution,” wrote Frederic Lane in his 1951 book Ships for Victory.
*Of the 655 reported private shipyard fatalities in the nation during 1943 and 1944, vehicles or loads striking workers was the second most common type of accident (25 percent) after falls (39 percent). Half of the “strike by” accidents involved cranes.
**’Beer and skittles’ is shorthand for a life of indulgence spent in the pub. Skittles, also known as Ninepins, which was the pre-cursor to ten-pin bowling, has been a popular English pub game since the 17th century. This definition is according to the Phrase Finder, a United Kingdom Web site: www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/230200.html.
— Ginny McPartland
You can watch a lecture about Dr. Sidney R. Garfield’s long quest for health care reform by Tom Debley to the Commonwealth Club of California.