, Heritage writer
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.
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, Heritage writer
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 of a new generation of women to work as welders in America’s ship-building industry (that barrier was first broken in 1918).
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.
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, 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.
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.”
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.
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, Heritage writer
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
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.
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.
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
“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.
, Heritage writer
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.
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.
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.
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.
, Heritage writer
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
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.
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.