I am fascinated with learning about where we came from – as I said previously (in 2007): “the dreams of those who came before us inform our dreams.”
It was beyond meaningful, then, to meet the women who worked in the Kaiser shipyards when they came to the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health (@KPTotalHealth). They were on their way back from meeting our President and Vice President ( Rosie The Riveter Trust – Real-Life Rosie The Riveters Finally Get White House Visit — And Steal A Presidential Kiss!).
This is the one time where I had to be comfortable saying “working for Kaiser” rather than “working for Kaiser Permanente,” because the medical groups that created our organization with Henry J. Kaiser were just coming into being during World War II.
I loved hearing the stories of being successful women in a man’s world (“you may make a riveter but you’ll never be one”) because they were all about what human beings can accomplish if they are given the opportunity.
The women endured discrimination (walking past “no women or blacks” signs) to do their duty for their country. They endured the loss of relationships with partners who couldn’t accept their abilities. And then they willingly or sometimes unwillingly left their trade to make room for returning men (“we never thought that we wanted the war to continue so that we could keep our jobs”).
Their employer, Henry J. Kaiser (“he was WONDERFUL” as an employer), offered them equal pay for equal work (“the men didn’t like it but that was too bad”), child care, health care, and trained everyone who had a want to serve. And they did, in an atmosphere they said of shared sacrifice/work for good.
I asked what their advice for us was, and they said, “keep doing what you’re doing.” I see that the Rosie the Riveter trust is now actively looking for stories about “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender civilian life in the 1940’s on the American WWII Home Front.” I am of course impressed because I see so many similarities between the ceilings that they shattered and the ones we are shattering today for the LGBTQI community.
It’s just a little amazing for our organization to be the living connection to this legacy of inclusion and harnessing of the human spirit. Just as Henry J. Kaiser changed a generation in his time, our generation is going to do the same. It’s happened before, and in our family.