Posts Tagged ‘Rosie the Riveter’

Mother’s Day: A Wartime Tribute

posted on May 10, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Mother’s Day photo, Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore ‘n’ Aft, May 12, 1944.

Fore ‘n’ Aft, May 12, 1944:

Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Never before has this fitting day of tribute to America’s mothers held the meaning it does in this year of world conflict. Mothers, in addition to their full-time job of loving, are doing the suffering for the boys who do the fighting. Mothers have joined the industrial army to make ships, planes, guns that will give their sons protection and strength.

All blessings to our Mothers.


Short link to this article:


Tags: , , , , , ,

An Industrial Revolution All Their Own: World War II Women Stand Up for Equality

posted on February 7, 2018

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Mary Carroll, The Bos’n’s Whistle, 8/13/1942

In April of 1942, Mary Carroll, Jeanne Wilde and Louise Cox reported for duty at Kaiser shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and Richmond, California — the first women to work as welders in America’s ship-building industry.

Carroll, Wilde and Cox were at the tip of a movement that turned industry and labor relations upside down during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, everything had changed. The standard industrial shipyard workforce, which for generations had been composed of healthy white men, found their ranks depleted as those workers joined the military.

Thousands of other women later joined these three, earning good wages and going where women had never been before. The home front was a watershed moment in the struggle for equal opportunity, when women stood up for the right to work alongside men despite hurdles that included resistance from labor unions.

Carroll and Wilde started working at the Kaiser shipyards in Portland after completing welding school. Carroll was a Gold Star Mother, having lost her 27-year-old son in the fighting on Bataan. Louise Cox was also hired in April. She was the first woman welder trainee at Kaiser Richmond’s Shipyard 2, replacing her brother on the production line after he joined the Navy.

Louise Cox, first woman welder in Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 8/27/1942

Massive Labor Migration

Who was left to build ships after men went to war? Everybody else. A massive labor migration to defense industries began. And the most difficult labor decision Henry J. Kaiser faced was how to handle union opposition to accepting the new workforce in his shipyards.

An Associated Press news story from November 1942 — less than a year after Pearl Harbor — pointed out that women had “managed to accomplish an industrial revolution all their own within a very short time” through the first large-scale unionization of women, winning the first legislation for equal opportunity through the War Labor Board, and revising “protective” legislation that hampered employment opportunities.

But these victories did not come easily.

Kaiser was an atypical industrialist who had long before learned that good labor relations was a smart business practice. During WWII, the shipyards were closed shops — that is, they could only employ union members. But in this case, the Boilermakers Union (full name: International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America) stood in the way of wartime production and social progress.

Mary Carroll and Jeanne Wilde, The Bos’n’s Whistle, 8/13/1942

Mary Carroll, Jeanne Wilde and Louise Cox —as well as dozens of other women in the Kaiser shipyards — had been hired through the United States Employment Service, not by the union. In early 1942, Kaiser’s eldest son, Edgar, who ran the Oregon shipyards, met with Anne Rosenberg, New York regional director of the War Manpower Commission. Given the wartime labor crisis, she authorized the USES to support the recruitment of Kaiser’s workers. The women hired were issued temporary work permit cards from the Boilermakers at no cost, pending a referendum on admitting them to full union membership.

Although President Roosevelt created the Committee on Fair Employment Practice (commonly known as the Fair Employment Practice Committee) on June 25, 1941, to see that “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race,” this directive didn’t apply to gender discrimination. And the Boilermakers excluded both women and African Americans.

“Local no. 6 of the Boilermakers’ Ship Builders, Welders, and Helpers felt the woman’s touch yesterday when these 20 be-slacked lady welders appeared at headquarters to protest their not being given union clearance for shipyard jobs. Only assurance they received from Business Manager Ed Rainbow was that the matter would remain in status quo until results of the international’s referendum on feminine membership were tabulated. The ladies were silenced but not satisfied.” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9/1942

Unions Start to Open Doors

The Boilermakers were by far the biggest of all the unions in the shipyards. By spring of 1943, their Local 513 represented 38,082 out of the 77,330 workers in the four Kaiser Richmond yards.

White women were the first excluded group to win full admission to the Boilermakers Union.

A group of 22 women welders and burners, representing hundreds barred from war production jobs in the new Marinship Corporation shipyards at Sausalito, stormed Boilermakers Local No. 6 offices in San Francisco at 155 Tenth Street on September 8, 1942, demanding the right to work. An account in the San Francisco Chronicle described the protest:

The feminine influx took the union Business Manager, Ed Rainbow, by surprise. His first reaction was belligerent. “If these girls attempt a publicity campaign against the union — an organization that seeks to protect women — we’ll yank all women workers out of the shipyards and let the government decide who’s right.”

All sides pointed fingers. Rainbow declared that adequate restroom facilities had not been installed, and Marinship said that they had. A spokeswoman for the protesters retorted: “If we want to walk a couple of extra blocks to a restroom that’s our business and not the union’s.”

Direct action worked. The next day’s news described how “The international headquarters of the union announced from Kansas City [that] the membership rolls of its 600 lodges would be opened to women.”

“Pat Centola, welder leaderman, shows pretty June Beesley, welder trainee, how to use his new weapons of war.” Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/1/1942

Even though a July 22 resolution for women’s membership yielded 12,000 votes for and 7,000 against, it failed on a quorum technicality. Union leadership then took the dramatic step of overriding their own bylaws on September 10, stating: “By authority of the Executive Council, you are directed to accept women, who are or who may become employed in jobs or work coming under the jurisdiction of our International Brotherhood, to membership.”

The doors were opened. By late November 1944, more than 3,000 women at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland had received their union cards; a similar influx took place in Richmond.

That was then, and this is now. The arc of justice has moved forward; the Boilermakers Union is a major sponsor of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park and actively recruits women in the trade.


Special thanks to San Francisco Chronicle archivist Bill Niekerken for help with this article.

Also see: “Path to Employment: African American Workers in Kaiser Shipyards”

Short link to this article:


Tags: , , , , ,

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.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

VP Biden plays host to women who worked in wartime shipyards

posted on March 27, 2014

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Marian and Loyd Wynn, 1944

Marian and Loyd Wynn, 1944. Marian worked as a pipe welder in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards during WWII.

Six San Francisco Bay Area women will represent female World War II defense workers across the nation when they travel next week to Washington, D.C., to be honored by Vice President Joe Biden.

Thousands of American women, as teenagers and young adults 70 years ago, stepped out of their traditional roles during World War II to build ships, aircraft and other war materiel crucial to Allied victory in 1945. Like the men who fought the war, the ranks of defense workers are thinning out more every day.

Phyllis Gould, 92, a welder in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards in the 1940s, resolved six years ago to arrange for a group of Rosies to go to the White House. Following Gould’s relentless letter-writing campaign, they’re leaving Saturday and will meet Biden in his office on Monday.

Here are brief biographies of the women making the trip:

Priscilla Elder, 93, an electrician in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, was the third of 11 children raised in Iowa. Priscilla followed her older sister to Richmond after her husband was drafted and sent to fight in Europe with the Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton.

Her twin sister followed Priscilla to California, and they both were hired as electricians to wire circuit boxes on troop transport ships built at Kaiser Shipyard No. 3. Priscilla’s 22-month-old son attended the Maritime Child Development Center, which was renovated in 2010 and reopened as a preschool.

Journeyman welder Kay Morrison, 2014

Journeyman welder Kay Morrison, 2014

Kay Morrison, 90, a native of Chico, Calif., came to Richmond with her carpenter husband in 1941 to find work. Her husband Ray was hired right away in Shipyard No. 2. She wanted to become a welder but at first she couldn’t get a job because the Boilermakers Union was not yet accepting women.

In 1943, she was hired as a welder and worked the graveyard shift in Shipyard No. 3 with her husband. The couple lived in San Francisco and commuted to Richmond by ferry. After three months, she took the test to become a journeyman (proficient) welder.

After the war, Ray continued his work in shipbuilding and Kay eventually went to work at Bank of America where she was employed for 30 years and retired in 1984 as bank manager.


Priscilla Elder, electrician in Kaiser Richmond Shipyards during World War II.

Marian Sousa, 88, a draftsman in the Engineering Department, is Phyllis Gould’s younger sister. She came down to Richmond from Eugene, Ore., to take care of Phyllis’s young son. After graduating from high school, she took a drafting course at UC Berkeley and was hired to make blueprint revisions at Shipyard No. 2.

Another sister, Marge, arrived later and got a job as a welder; the girls’ mother, Mildred, followed later when her husband, a career military man, was posted to Camp Stoneman near Pittsburg, Calif.  She put her youngest daughter in child care and went to work at the shipyards as a painter.

Phyllis and her husband bought a house in San Pablo that, though small, housed the whole extended family. The beds were in use around the clock as family members alternately slept and worked a shift at the shipyards.

Marian Wynn, 87, like Priscilla Elder, was the third child in a family of 11 raised in the Midwest. Her father migrated from Minnesota to Richmond, Calif., in 1942 to become an electrician lead man in Kaiser Shipyard No. 3. She wanted to follow her father right away but agreed to wait until she finished high school.

After graduation, she traveled by bus to Richmond and was hired as a pipe welder in West Storage in Shipyard No. 3. After the war, she didn’t return to Minnesota because she met and married her husband, a Navy man stationed at Treasure Island near San Francisco.

Journeyman welder Agnes Moore, 2014

Journeyman welder Agnes Moore, 2014

Agnes Moore, 94, grew up on a farm in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the sixth of seven children. She came to California in 1942 to visit her brother and sister. While driving in San Francisco, she heard a radio advertisement for shipyard workers.

“Women, do something for your country. Go to Richmond shipyard and become a welder,” she recalls the radio announcer saying. The ad spurred her to drive over to Richmond and apply. She was hired in 1942, and in 1943 she passed the test to become a journeyman welder. Agnes worked in the shipyard until the end of the war in 1945, longer than the average Rosie.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rosie the Riveter’s tough image morphs to fit the times

posted on October 11, 2013

by Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

This poster, developed by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse Electric in 1943, hardly saw the light of day until rediscovered long after the war ended. Wikipedia photo
This poster, developed by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse Electric in 1943, hardly saw the light of day until rediscovered long after the war ended. Wikipedia image.

Iconic ‘Rosie’ poster gets new life as a symbol of empowerment of women in 21st century

The “We Can Do It!” poster depicting the no-nonsense woman wearing a red polka-dotted bandana with her arm raised and flexed is a familiar sight in 2013. It’s been so embraced in recent years that you might assume it to be the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter that was known and revered during World War II.

But your assumption would be wrong.  This poster, created by Pittsburg commercial artist J. Howard Miller, enjoyed limited circulation during the war and only emerged from obscurity recently as a symbol of women’s empowerment.

For recent generations, the image has represented the quest by women for equal rights and pay at work, equal status with their male counterparts at home, as well as equality under the law.

Rosie the Riveter was the idealized, patriotic woman who gave up domestic life to face the hard knocks of the heavy industrial workplace. More than 6 million American women took traditionally male jobs in the manufacturing of war machines, weapons and munitions to replace the male workers who were called to the battlefield.

War information office creates first image

Rosie is a legend and, as with most legends, her character is a blend of various inspirational women, real and imagined. During World War II she was the “Liberty Girl,” “Their Real Pin-up Girl” and the patriotic girl who produced battle materiel, gladly purchased war bonds to support the Allied forces, and did without rationed items, such as sugar and nylon stockings.

The powerful female image of Rosie was developed under the auspices of the War Production Board to inspire patriotic behavior. The government circulated thousands of posters and fliers that enticed all Americans to take a part in supporting the war effort.

Giving the female war worker the name of “Rosie” probably started with a newspaper story about Rosalind P. Walter, an aircraft factory worker in New York.

Rosie song spawns fascination

The Rosie the Riveter song inspired Norman Rockwell's version of Rosie. Wikipedia image
The Rosie the Riveter song inspired Norman Rockwell’s version of Rosie. Wikipedia image.

Rosalind (P. Walter), today a philanthropist behind many PBS programs, came from a wealthy Long Island family, and went to work on the night shift right out of high school.  The daughter of Carleton Palmer, the president of the pharmaceutical company E.R. Squibb, Rosalind work life inspired songwriters Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb to tell her story in song.

Their creation, “Rosie the Riveter” included the lines: “She’s making history, working for victory,” “That little frail can do more than a male can do.” The Four Vagabonds and swing band leader Kay Kyser both recorded popular versions of the song.

Norman Rockwell, the darling of pop culture illustrators at the time, selected dental hygienist Mary Doyle as the model to give a face to the girl in the song. Rockwell’s healthy, muscular “Rosie” appeared on the cover of the 1943 Memorial Day issue of the popular Saturday Evening Post.

With this exposure, Rockwell’s image of Rosie captured America’s imagination. On the other hand, Miller’s “We Can Do It!” was not associated directly with Rosie the Riveter and was seen by only a few, mostly workers in Westinghouse Electric Co. factories.

Miller used a wire service photo of Geraldine Hoff Doyle, a temporary metal presser in a defense factory in Inkster, Mich., for Rosie’s image. The poster was on display for only a few weeks in February 1943.

Variations of Rosie emerge on Home Front

Other variations of “Rosie” appeared on the Home Front, including Rose Will Monroe, a riveter in Ford’s B-24 Liberator bomber plant in Willow Run, Mich. She was discovered on the job by actor Walter Pigeon and became the star of a government war bonds promotion film. Monroe, a poor widow from rural Kentucky, became a pilot after the war.

Norman Rockwell's version of Rosie as strong, muscular and proud. Wikipedia image
Norman Rockwell’s version of Rosie as strong, muscular and proud. Wikipedia image

Miller’s straightforward depiction of Rosie was later recognized by art historians as they researched material in the National Archives, long after America’s love affair with tough working women ended and Rosie returned to the kitchen.

In 1982, it was featured in an article on patriotic posters in Washington Times Magazine, on the cover of Modern Maturity in 1984 and the Smithsonian Magazine in 1994.

In 1999, a U. S. postage stamp featuring Miller’s image seemed to cement the connection between Rosie and “We Can Do It!”

In 2000, the National Park Service opened a historical park in Richmond, Calif., on the site of four of Henry J. Kaiser’s wartime shipyards. Thousands of women of all races helped to build 747 ships between 1942 and 1945 in the Richmond yards.

Appropriately, the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park staff chose the “We Can Do It!” image for its promotional materials and recently added a new version that features a black Rosie.

In recent decades, feminist writers and historians have identified women’s wartime work as a great precedent for the role of woman in the modern workforce. They’ve rediscovered Miller’s formerly obscure poster and grafted the powerful “We Can Do It!” visual to their cause.


All Rosies will be honored on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the 7th Annual Home Front Festival in the Craneway Pavilion at 1414 South Harbour Way on the Richmond (California) waterfront. Anyone who worked in war industry is welcome to the Rosie the Riveter Reunion and Photo Shoot at 1 p.m. in the pavilion.

The Home Front event includes live music, historical displays, artisan booths, activities for kids and families, free duck boat rides, tours of the restored SS Red Oak Victory Ship and food and drink. Admission is free.

 Short link to this story:

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bay Area Home Front Festival focuses on children of World War II

posted on October 10, 2013
Children had a home away from home in the World War II Kaiser West Coast Shipyards.
Children had a home away from home in the World War II Kaiser West Coast Shipyards.

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Shipyard history show must go on despite national park shutdown

Americans were worried about the health and welfare of their children during World War II. Dubbed the “Eight-Hour Orphans” because many of their mothers were at work in war industries, young children had to endure the harshness of the Home Front like their parents did.

Special programs for children – many transplanted by parents’ job opportunities – sprung up during the war to minimize the psychological and physical effects brought on by hostilities abroad.

The federal government sponsored child care centers at war production worksites like the Kaiser West Coast Shipyards where the best minds in the country were engaged to develop the curriculum (including art and music) and the environment.

“Failure to provide adequate care for the children of working mothers . . . is probably the gravest home problem we face.  For it would be folly to win the war—and find that we had lost our children,” the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard newsletter Fore ‘N’ Aft asserted in May 1943.

So it’s appropriate that this year’s Home Front Festival should adopt the theme “Kids Can Do It!” to set the tone for this Saturday’s event at the historic Kaiser Shipyards site in Richmond, California. The event in the Craneway Pavilion at the end of South Harbour Way will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Kids were fed well in the World War II Kaiser Shipyards child care centers.
Kids were fed well in the World War II Kaiser Shipyards child care centers.

Sponsored by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the festival will go on despite the federal government shutdown that has kept the National Park Service employees at the Rosie the Riveter park away from work since Oct. 1.

NPS activities planned for the festival, including the opening of “Kids in WWII: Imagination & Reality” in the Visitors Center, have been cancelled. This exhibit will open when the shutdown ends and run through March 2014.

The chamber is sponsoring the Kids Zone that will feature a video game truck, jump-houses, face painting, art projects, games and interactive activities for family members of all ages.

The festival will also feature: rides on 1940s buses to the historic SS Red Oak Victory Ship, live music by five different bands throughout the day, free duck boat tours of Marina Bay, food and drink, and a cornucopia of historical exhibits and commercial booths.

Women and men who worked in war industries during World War II are invited to join the festivities and participate in the annual Rosie the Riveter reunion and photo shoot.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Richmond fans get sneak peek at Rosie Park visitors’ center

posted on May 1, 2012


Oil House tourists enjoy the ambiance.

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

It’s not quite ready yet, but a group of proud fans of Richmond, California, got an early tour of the resurrected Ford Company Oil House on the Richmond waterfront Saturday. The industrial brick building that once powered the Ford motor vehicle plant has been morphed into what promises to be a gorgeous visitors’ center for Rosie the Riveter national park. The center is scheduled to open to the public next month.

Evidence that construction crews planned to return after the party to finish their work was everywhere in the three-level renovated space, but no one seemed to care. Partygoers sipped sparkling wine and relished the fulfillment of a decade-old dream.

Cheers to the new visitors’ center!

The Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was established by an act of Congress in 2000. The National Park Service (NPS), the Rosie the Riveter Trust and many community groups have been working toward the opening of the visitors’ center since that time.

The park encompasses the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards and other World War II sites in the area. The restored Red Oak Victory ship, which houses a museum and gift shop, can be seen across the water from the old Ford plant.

Modern design for historical structure

The Oil House was constructed in 1931 as part of the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant Complex (where tanks were manufactured during World War II). Although not shown in the complex original plans, the style of the building indicates it was designed by Albert Kahn Associates. “The construction, brickwork, industrial metal sash windows and detailing of the building clearly indicate that it was designed by the same architect,” explained the Rosie the Riveter Park Chief of Interpretation Morgan Smith.

“The function of the building was essential to the assembly line operation, housing multiple large oil tanks that fueled the boilers that, in turn, ran the steam powered conveyer system and equipment of the plant.” The lower level of the Oil House was only accessible through a tunnel from the main plant building and from a narrow enclosed ladder from the upper levels.

The Visitor Education Center to open in the refurbished Oil House will feature a theater, classroom and traveling exhibits. The park service’s goal was to create a modern facility yet retain the historical integrity of the original construction.

The reception at the Oil House was a preliminary to the annual Rosie the Riveter Trust Annual Dinner, a fundraiser for the national park. A number of Kaiser Shipyard workers attended the dinner and were recognized from the podium by Diane Hedler of Kaiser Permanente, vice president of the Rosie Trust board. John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, was the keynote speaker. Jane Bartke, president of the Rosie Trust board, was chair of the event.

The dinner was staged in the Craneway Pavilion, formerly the Ford Assembly Plant, which was converted into an event space in 2008. Developer Eddie Orton and architect Marcy Wong won an American Institute of Architects national award in 2011 for the restoration of the 40,000-square foot Craneway, which also houses the Boiler House Restaurant.

Photos by Joe Paolazzi

The Craneway Pavilion was once the Ford Assembly Plant.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rosie park in Richmond not just for Rosies

posted on May 19, 2010

By Ginny McPartland   

World War II changed everything. Women dared to strike out for the first time into a man’s world of work. America’s harbors sprouted hyperactive shipyards, and a burgeoning U.S. heavy industry turned out the steady stream of weapons and vehicles needed to outlast our enemies. “We won the war because we out-produced everyone else,” observed Lucille “Penny” Price, a Richmond, California, shipyard electrician during the war. 

Diverse shipyard workers in class

A grateful American society has been thanking the stereotypical “Rosie the Riveter” for her role in war production ever since the war ended 65 years ago. About 25 percent of the hundreds of thousands of West Coast shipyard workers were women, but the park is really dedicated to all home front workers – welders, electricians, pipe fitters, cleaners, helpers – everyone. 

Telling the “Rosie” stories, as well as chronicling the dramatic societal changes the war spawned, is the mission of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park in Richmond. The park sits on the Richmond waterfront where the wartime Kaiser shipyards were situated. 

Celebrating World War II’s home front legacy 

As the nation marks the 65th anniversary of the war’s end this year, the Rosie park celebrates its 10 years as an institution dedicated to keeping the lessons of World War II from being forgotten. Kaiser Permanente, whose medical care program started in the Kaiser West Coast shipyards in 1945, also celebrates its decade-long association with the park to keep the war’s legacy alive. 

The health plan’s contributions to the park’s mission will be formally recognized on Monday, May 24, when the city of Richmond and the National Park Service present Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Director Tom Debley with the 2010 Home Front Award. Debley is being honored for “initiatives to create and support the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.” 

Ambulances at the ready in Richmond

The powerful synergy of the national park-Kaiser Permanente partnership was highlighted at a recent party to raise funds for the Rosie the Riveter National Park Trust. Debley was guest speaker and gave his talk about the history of health care reform. 

About 150 people attended the annual event in the old cafeteria on the former site of Kaiser Shipyard No.3, raising $38,000 for various trust community projects. These projects include Rosie’s Girls, a summer camp for adolescent girls; restoration of Atchison Village wartime housing, which is on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to work by the Rosie trust. You can find out more about trust projects at 

The cafeteria, an ugly duckling the day before, was transformed into a lovely swan by Saturday night. NPS Ranger Elizabeth Tucker, along with Rosie Trust dinner co-chairperson Jane Bartke and others, dressed up the place with a couple hundred posters, photos and other war era artifacts. Rosemary Blaylock, a friend of Bartke, collected products and household items that recalled a simpler time before the war. She made up see-through packets that contained wartime candies M&Ms, malt balls, and bite-size York’s Peppermint patties. 

Among the guests at dinner was a sunny Kaiser Permanente President and CEO George Halvorson and his photographer wife Lorie Halvorson; pioneering Permanente physicians Morris Collen and Ed Schoen, who treated shipyard workers; Diane Hedler, director of Quality for the Permanente Federation and Rosie trust board member; Alide Chase, senior vice president of Quality and Safety; Robert Erickson, retired chief counsel for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals; Glen Hentges, chief financial officer for the Permanente Federation; Clair Lisker, retired hospital nursing administrator and educator, her family including her son Wes Lisker a physician at Hayward Medical Center; John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions; Dianne Dunlap, August’s deputy and member of the Rosie trust board; Holly Potter, vice president, public relations and stakeholder management, Brand Strategy, Communications and Public Relations; Bill Graber, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Board of Directors member; Richard Reed, senior project manager, Health Plan Process Administration; and Mark Aquino, Patient Care Services. 

Of course, the national park service was well represented by Ranger Betty Soskin Reid, our most celebrated local Rosie who worked in the shipyards and is the oldest ranger in the park system; park Superintendent Martha Lee; Ric Borjes, Chief of Cultural Resources for four Bay area park sites; and Elizabeth Tucker, park ranger and all-around get-things-done person. Other special guests of the night were Bernice Grimes, of Walnut Creek, who was a scaler at the Kaiser shipyards,  Mary Gillum, of Portland, Ore., who was a machinist in an Oregon Kaiser shipyard, and Marian Sousa, a draftswoman in Shipyard #3. 

Rosie Marian Wynn, a wartime pipe welder, Marjorie Hill, a Red Oak Victory volunteer, Amanita Cornejo, a Contra Costa College volunteer, and Marian Sousa helped with set-up and clean-up for the dinner. 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

In Memory of Lena Horne & Launch of the SS George Washington Carver Liberty Ship

posted on May 10, 2010

By Tom Debley
Director of Heritage Resources

Singer Lena Horne prepares to launch the SS George Washington Carver on May 7, 1943 at Kaiser Shipyard No. 1 in Richmond, Calif. This was taken by black photographer E. F. Joseph for the Office of War Information.

This week we pay tribute to the great jazz singer Lena Horne, who died Sunday, May 9, at the age of 92.

What’s her connection to Kaiser Permanente? Sixty-seven years ago, on May 7, 1943, Lena Horne broke a bottle of champagne across the bow to launch the SS George Washington Carver, a brand new Liberty ship built in Henry J. Kaiser’s legendary World War II shipyards in Richmond, Calif.

She was proudly representing the more than 7,000 African American shipyard workers — 1,000 of them female “Rosie the Riveters” — and all of whom received their health care from the medical care program that would become Kaiser Permanente after the war.

Their story is part of Kaiser Permanente’s long and proud history of ethnic and cultural diversity.

The SS George Washington Carver was the first Kaiser-built Liberty ship to be named for a famous African American, and many of the men and women who built it were African Americans.

Anna Bland, a burner, is shown at work on the SS George Washington Carver as it was being rushed to completion in the spring of 1943.  Photograph by E. F. Joseph for the Office of War Information.

Carver, you will recall, was the scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who had died only four months earlier in 1943. Who better to christen her on her maiden voyage than one of America’s most admired  and talented African American women?

Also on hand that day was a well-known African American photographer, E. F. Joseph, who recorded the event for the Office of War Information.

The ship was initially assigned by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) to the American South African Line, Inc. for merchant service. But in November 1943 the ship was turned over to the United States Army and converted to the Hospital Ship Dogwood.

In January 1946, the ship was again converted to carry a combination of troops and military dependents as the USAT George Washington Carver before retiring to National Defense Reserve Fleet.  It was sold for scrap in 1964.

Today, the story of these African American workers, the SS George Washington Carver, and its launch by Lena Horne is one of the legacy stories of the Home Front that is part of the history that is shared in the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Climb the gangplank to learn about World War II’s social legacy

posted on March 13, 2010


Photo courtesy of Red Oak Victory

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

If you grew up in the Bay Area, or anywhere in America for that matter, you’re missing the boat if you haven’t been out to experience the Red Oak Victory ship docked on the Richmond waterfront.

Granted it’s difficult to find, and in fact, you may never have heard of it. Not to worry, most people haven’t yet visited the Rosie the Riveter National Park where the ship is found.

The Red Oak Victory, built in the Kaiser Richmond shipyards in 1944, is a huge hulk of seaworthy steel that embodies a million stories pertinent to our society’s past.

The ammunition ship, saved from scrap in 1998 by the Richmond Museum of History, serves as the chief artifact of the home front city’s museum collection. Volunteers have renovated much of the ship, which carried essential cargo for battles in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Richmond, and other Bay Area shipyards, figured fantastically in WWII home front America. The Bay Area was radically changed forever by the phenomenal influx of 200,000 shipyard workers and their families from around the nation. Every type of individual was represented in the newly configured social structure of California.

The legacy of World War II’s sociological impact is fully explored and documented in books and other items in the Red Oak’s museum gift shop. Notable examples are: “To Place Our Deeds” by Shirley Ann Wilson Moore; and “World War II Shipyards by the Bay” by Nicholas A. Veronico.

Red Oak's main mast

Red Oak’s main mast

Just a few changes nudged by the war: Women working with men in industrial settings for equal pay; blacks and minorities working with whites for comparable pay; the emergence of professional child care centers; employment for the disabled; and affordable prepaid preventive health care provided by employers.
The medical care program started in the wartime shipyards lives on as Kaiser Permanente and is well documented in Tom Debley’s book “Dr. Sidney R. Garfield: The Visionary Who Turned Sick Care into Health Care,” published in 2009 by Permanente Press.

Changes in the status of women and minorities largely reverted after the war, but the seeds were deeply planted for the civil rights and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s.

Now for my confession: I grew up in Richmond, and I had never seen the shipyards or the Red Oak Victory until recently. My first visit to the floating museum was only a few weeks ago. Bay Area Historian Steve Gilford, a director on the museum board, gave me two tours of Shipyard 3 and the Red Oak. My eyes were opened to the treasure that is preserved in the depths of this honey-combed hunk of war grey welded and riveted steel.

The ship experience starts with a climb up the gangplank, a portable, suspended aluminum staircase to the main deck. From there, you step over the raised rims of the hatchways and navigate steel ladders to the various compartments of the midship house and the deckhouse. Down from the main deck you’ll find the museum, gift shop, and meeting room in a cleaned-up cargo hold.

Red Oak’s industrial mixer for batter

One cheery way to introduce yourself to the historic waterfront is to partake of the $6 pancake breakfast offered on the Red Oak Victory once a month from April to October. The first one for 2010 is April 11.

To get to the Red Oak Victory, take I80 to 580 West. Stay on the freeway past the Rosie the Riveter park exit and take Canal Boulevard instead. Follow Canal all the way to the bay and wind your way through the industrial area to Berth 6A.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,