Friday, March 15, 2019

"The high-quality medical care received by the workers in the Kaiser shipyards under the direction of Sidney Garfield, MD, helped us win the war."

Health Plan recruitment poster, 1942 Health Plan recruitment poster, 1942

"The high-quality medical care received by the workers in the Kaiser shipyards under the direction of Sidney Garfield, MD, helped us win the war." By Lincoln Cushing 

When Henry J. Kaiser took on a contract to build cargo ships for the British Government in 1941, our nation wasn’t at war. The modern shipyards he carved into the Richmond’s remote bay marsh (as well as in St. Johns, Oregon) began as just one more of his large-scale industrial projects. But when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, everything changed, and everyone was called upon to support the “home front”.

By mid-1942, the healthy, white, male workforce had left for the armed services, and our country needed to build ships faster than the enemy could sink them. Kaiser’s offer of good union jobs in the defense industry drew people from all over the country. Visualize the home front workforce – housewives, people of color, disabled veterans, people too young or too old to fight. Cities like Richmond had to step up with wraparound services. Housing and transportation were in high demand, so Kaiser built dormitories and brought in trolley cars from New York. For an increasingly female labor pool, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt told Kaiser he’d need to provide child care – and he did.

But of all these infrastructure improvements, one stands out. The high-quality medical care received by the workers in the Kaiser shipyards under the direction of Sidney Garfield, MD, helped us win the war.

Manual labor was not a novelty to this generation, but most had never experienced the hazards of intense industrial production. To keep 90,000 people safe and returning to the job the next day, the first aid stations, the Richmond Field Hospital, and the Oakland Permanente Foundation Hospital all had to perform flawlessly. Novel for heavy industry, a staff gynecologist supported women’s health. Shipyard newspapers carried suggestions about how to work safely. Practical medical experience was shared with other physicians around the country in a published journal. One of our doctors was so good at treating pneumonia that he got the first civilian doses of the life-saving drug penicillin. And all this high-quality care was offered without racial segregation.

The industrial health plan, free for all workers, was first extended as an affordable nonindustrial plan. Later, employee families were included. Why? Because if you got hurt away from the job, or if your child was sick, you were likely to miss work. The fight against fascism needed your able body.

Kaiser Permanente’s coming-of-age took place in these shipyards, with these workers. It’s an honor to help sponsor this site of national pride and remember that health care was, and is, a community investment.

Rosie the Riveter Trust (ID # 94-3335350) — PO Box 71126, Richmond, CA 94807-1126 — (510) 507-2276

Park Partners:
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In this time of uncertainty, please reach out to us.  We want to know if you are okay and if you have the resources you need. Above all, we do not want you to feel isolated.  Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 510-507-2276


In light of current concerns for everyone’s health and local government recommendations, we have rescheduled our 20th anniversary annual benefit dinner for August 30, 2020. We want to protect our community and especially not jeopardize our Rosies’ health (certainly our super stars of the event!).

I sincerely ask you to buy your tickets today. Rosie the Riveter Trust relies heavily on the funds raised from this annual dinner to keep our programs afloat and our park thriving. Our Board and I look forward to seeing you on August 30 - same time, same place!

My very best, 

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Sarah Pritchard, Executive Director 

PS. If you do not know if you can come and could send a donation, we would be most grateful. Your financial contributions support the day-to-day operations of the Trust and our ability to offer park access to youth and special programming. Thank you!