Women and shipyards during WW II

Portland had some important ship building to do during WW II. Since many of the guys were off to war, that left a lot of women and America needed those women to build ships for the war effort.

The Oregon Historical Society has a few pages posted to their website from a handbook called Handbook for New Women Shipyard Workers.

It seems the war and the domestic changes it brought are pretty interesting. The following is an excerpt from another document at the Oregon Historical Society website.


World War II transformed the nationís work force as thousands of women took wage-earning jobs for the first time, a national increase of 57 percent between 1941 and 1945. At the peak of the Boeing Company’s wartime production effort south of Seattle, 46 percent of its 50,000 employees were women. Comparable figures for Portlandís big Kaiser shipyards in 1944 indicate that the 28,000 women laborers comprised 30 percent of the work force, with countless others working in smaller yards along the Columbia and Willamette rivers. To accommodate families with children, day-care centers became an important feature of urban life for the first time.

Since no part of history would be complete without input from a sociologist, there is, fortunately, some input from a sociologist.


Sociologist Karen Skold, who has studied the role of women workers in the Portland shipyards, points out that the yards hired women at an earlier time and in greater numbers than elsewhere in the nation, a reflection of the regionís dire labor shortage. Ultimately, women shipyard employees earned good wages, gained equal pay with men for the same kind of work, and labored at jobs that had formerly been denied to them.

With all those women working, you just gotta have some place to put the rowdy kids. And Portland folks came up with the following.


Both Kaiser shipyard and federal officials recognized the importance of government-funded child-care accommodations for women shipyard workers, with community-based facilities located in Portland, Vanport, and Vancouver. Two Kaiser child-care centers, strategically located at shipyard entrances and operating for all three work shifts, provided excellent care for the children of working mothers. Staffed by professionally trained child-development experts and providing nutritionally balanced diets, the innovative centers became national showcases. At their peak, the two Portland shipyards ó Oregon Shipbuilding and Swan Island ó employed 16,000 women, and the two child-care centers cared for approximately 700 children. These figures also indicate that thousands of women sought care for their children elsewhere.

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