The Northwest Women’s History Project was formed in 1978 to capture the stories of women in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington who had done ‘men’s work’ in area shipyards during World War II.
Amy Kesselman’s research for her PhD in History at Cornell University provided the original impetus for this effort. Living in Portland in the late 1970s and early 80s, Amy befriended a number of women who were interested in helping her conduct oral history interviews. This group included Sarah Cook; Susan Feldman; Madeline Moore; Sandy Polishuk; Tina Tau; Barbara Whittlesey-Hayes; VaLera Washburn; and Karen Wickre. We also hired Barbara Gundle to photograph the women we interviewed, and she later became a member of the team.
Working as a group, we located and contacted about 200 women who remained in the Portland-Vancouver area in the decades since their shipyard work. We chose 23 of them to interview in person, and each of us transcribed the segments of their stories we thought were most compelling. In 1982, we received a small grant from the Oregon Council for the Humanities to produce a slide-tape show (the technology available at the time) telling the story of these women. We called it “Good Work, Sister!”
Since then, with the support of NW Documentary, we transferred the production to DVD. The show continues to find new audiences and continues to educate and inspire a new generation. A revised and expanded version of Amy’s dissertation became a book titled Fleeting Opportunities: Women Shipyard Workers in Portland and Vancouver During World War II and Reconversion.