From Many, One
Maria Isabel Solis Thomas, Shipyard Worker

Oral History

On the Water - Maritime Voices - Thomas

Listen to Maria Isabel Solis Thomas

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Historical Context

World War II scrambled American society. Jobs in shipyards brought men, women, and families to parts of the country they had never visited before. In their new homes, they often lived and worked among people of many different backgrounds. At the peak of wartime production in 1943, women made up more than 10 percent of the work force in most of the shipyards. Listen to the story of Maria Isabel Solis Thomas, to gain an understanding of the immense changes World War II caused within American society.


These questions are based on the accompanying primary sources. They are designed to help you practice working with historical documents. Some of these documents have been edited, but all are authentic. As you analyze the documents, take into account the source of each document and any point of view that may be presented in the document.

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  1. After carefully listening to Mrs. Thomas’ recorded statements, describe where her co-workers were from. What possible inferences could you make regarding her feelings about living and working among people of many different backgrounds? Pay close attention to her tone of voice, the frequency with which she describes where her co-workers were from, and the context of these statements.
  2. Citing evidence from the recorded statements of Mrs. Thomas and at least one supporting primary source, what was she proud of and what is her reason for taking on such dangerous work?
  3. According to the recorded statements of Mrs. Thomas and both supporting primary sources, which job do you think had the most female shipyard workers?

Supporting Primary Sources

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

“Wendy the Welder” and “Rosie the Riveter”

Women entered the work force in history-making numbers during World War II. At the peak of wartime production in 1943, women made up more than 10 percent of the work force in most of the shipyards. Although “Rosie the Riveter” was their symbol, there actually were few women riveters. “Wendy the Welder” is closer to the truth, since women helped assemble the first generation of welded ships. These women are chipping excess metal from a welded joint at Baltimore’s Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards.

“Women at Work”

This page from a 1944 booklet about the four shipyards in Richmond, California, provides a glimpse of the workforce during wartime. At peak production in 1943 there were 90,000 employees on the payroll in all of the yards combined. The average Richmond Shipyard worker earned $61.00 per week in 1944.

From A Booklet of Illustrated Facts about the Shipyards at Richmond California, Second edition published by the Permanente Metals Corporation (Richmond, California: June 30, 1944).