May 14, 2019

Rosies land at Normandy!

Kaiser Permanente honors the pioneering women from our World War II-era workforce, which connects our past to our present — and future.

Eastine Cowner, a scaler at Kaiser Richmond Shipyard, working on Liberty ship SS George Washington Carver, launched May 7, 1943.

D-Day. Normandy, June 6, 1944.

75 years ago, a massive Allied force stormed the French coast and turned the tide in World War II. America sent some of its finest to fight, and many did not return. This year, to mark the anniversary, we will send more of our finest — civilian women who built ships for that war in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards.

Six "Rosie the Riveters," all in their 90s, plan to attend the D-Day commemorations taking place in Normandy. The trip was the brainchild of Frenchwoman Celine Rouhalde, whose grandfather was a French Resistance fighter during World War II. Her appreciation for the Allied home front workers is clear and simple: “Without you, I would either not exist or be speaking German.”

For 2019’s Women’s History Month, Kaiser Permanente hosted “Celebrating Women in the Workforce,” an event honoring 5 Rosies from the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards (4 of whom will be headed to Normandy): Agnes Moore (journeyman welder 1942-1945), Catherine “Kay” Stavros Morrison (journeyman welder 1943-1945), Mary Schevchik Torres (journeyman welder 1942-1945), Marian McKey Sousa (draftsman 1943-1944), and Marian Parsons Wynn (pipe welder 1944-1945).

Rosies at a Women in the Workforce event
Top row, L to R: CJ Bhalla, Laurel Junk, Kim Kaiser (grandson of Henry J. Kaiser), Warren Harber; bottom row, L to R: Agnes Moore, Kay Morrison, Mary Torres, Marian Sousa, Marian Wynn

Marian Wynn’s brother, U.S. Army Private Donald F. Parsons, died in combat July 1944 and is buried on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach at the Normandy-American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. This will be the first time anyone in Marian’s family has been able to visit her brother’s grave.

Agnes Moore vividly remembers hearing an announcement on her car radio in 1942: “Women! Do something for your country! Go to the Richmond shipyards and be a welder!” So, she did. At first, she was offered an office job, but she held out for welding, serving the war effort crawling through dark, 18-inch holes to build the double bottoms of ships. She was proud to be doing something for our country and helping bring the boys home from the war.

The transformation of the industrial workforce to females, minorities, and the disabled as healthy white men went off to fight the war required massive investments in our infrastructure, including housing, child care, and transportation. But of all these services, one stands out.

The high-quality medical care received by the workers in the Kaiser Shipyards under the direction of founding physician Sidney R. Garfield, MD, helped Henry J. Kaiser build more ships more efficiently than anyone else, and thus helped us win the war. Historian Kevin Starr wrote that the health plan was the “great, big social idea” to come out of World War II.

Kaiser Richmond Field Hospital, circa 1943
Kaiser Richmond Field Hospital, circa 1943

The industrial health plan was initially free for all workers. Kaiser later extended it as an affordable nonindustrial plan covering employee families. Why? Because if you got hurt away from the job, or if your child was sick, you were likely to miss work.

Kay Morrison worked the graveyard shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. She recalled, “Henry J. Kaiser gave us that health care because he wanted to keep us well, to be the best we could be. To build his ships, he needed his workers there.”

Kaiser Permanente’s coming-of-age took place in these shipyards, with these workers.

We thank you for your service.