March 19, 2014

Thrive on the home front of World War II

A shipyard mother picks up carry-out dinner along with her child from a Kaiser Child Service Center in Portland.

On the Home Front of World War II, the Child Service Centers in the Henry J. Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon would become one of the greatest experiments in preschool education and child care of the 20th century under the leadership of Lois Meek Stolz.

And medical care was a key component of that program, along with good food service, including carry-out dinners for the families that parents could pick up at the end of their work shifts.

Even before Dr. Sidney R. Garfield was released from the Army by President Franklin Roosevelt to organize the medical care program that would become Kaiser Permanente, a doctor named Forrest Rieke was hired as the first physician in the Portland Swan Island Kaiser Shipyard.

As medical consultant to Stoltz’s project, Rieke witnessed first hand the results of round-the-clock child care for the shipyard families. The experiment, Dr. Rieke told the Oregon Historical Society in a 1976 oral history, was expensive, “as experiments often are” and “very successful.”

The medical outcomes impressed him especially. Children often were malnourished and ill when they arrived with their Depression era, out of work parents. But with shipyard jobs for the parents, child care and medical care for the entire family, their world rapidly improved.

Said Dr. Rieke: “There was no question in any of our minds about what we proved. That was that kids, in these circumstances, thrive. They gain weight, they get pink-cheeked and they start getting happy…This made a great difference, in my judgment, and I’ve said so ever since…”

Watch the video Budding Rembrandts: Children Create Art in World War II Kaiser Shipyard Childcare Centers.