Friday, August 29, 2008

HMS Berry and USS Doherty

Sixty-six years ago today, on August 29, 1942, the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Mare Island launched a ship for the British Navy. The HMS Berry was the second of 24 destroyer escort vessels that Mare Island planned to build for the Royal Navy under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program. Berry’s sister ship, HMS Bentinck, had been launched only a week previously.

The construction of British ships at an American shipyard was only one of the unusual aspects of this destroyer escort program. In addition to their British pedigree, Bentinck, Berry, and other ships of the class were unusual because they were primarily built high in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado. The “Shipyard in the Rockies” program consisted of prefabricated parts built in Colorado and brought by rail to Mare Island for assembly and eventual launching. Denver was selected because of its largely untapped labor force and the prevalent affordable housing available for its defense workers.

HMS Berry’s sponsor was Mrs. Robert E. Moreland, wife of the Master of the Joiner and Shipwright’s Shop at Mare Island. At the launching, Mare Island’s commandant, Rear Admiral Wilhelm H. Friedell, emphasized that America’s homefront shipyards bore a major responsibility in supporting the war effort. “We, who are on the production end of this titanic struggle, must ourselves maintain an ever-present offensive,” Friedell proclaimed. “We must win. We must survive.”

However, HMS Berry would never serve in His Majesty’s Navy. As the U.S. Navy struggled to rebuild after Pearl Harbor it became apparent that more American ships were needed to fight the Axis Powers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. HMS Berry was retained by the U.S. Navy and rechristened as USS Doherty. She served as an escort vessel in Arctic and Pacific waters throughout the war and was eventually decommissioned and then scrapped at the war’s conclusion.

As one of the many hundreds of ships built at Mare Island, the HMS Berry -USS Doherty might best be remembered as a symbol of the cooperation maintained by the United States and her allies during WWII.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Casa de Vallejo Fire

One of Vallejo's most distinctive landmarks, the Casa de Vallejo, suffered a major fire during the early morning hours of August 15th. Three residents of the senior housing complex died and m0re than a hundred were left homeless. Casa de Vallejo was built in 1919 as Vallejo's Industrial YMCA. The building was purchased by hotelier Harry Handlery in 1928 and converted into Vallejo's first luxury hotel. Casa de Vallejo has been a senior residence complex since 1978.

The Casa de Vallejo is located on Sonoma Blvd. in Vallejo, immediately adjacent to the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, which is located in Vallejo's historic Old City Hall. Fortunately for the Museum, rapid response by fire crews from Vallejo and surrounding communities prevented the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings.

The accompanying photographs show the beautiful mission style interior of the Casa de Vallejo. Hopefully reconstruction of the building will preserve these unique historic features. Click on the photos for an enlarged view.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vallejo Women Struggle to Win the Vote

Over the next few weeks both the Democratic and Republican Parties will hold their national conventions to select candidates for the November presidential election. Other political parties (the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Peace & Freedom Party, etc.) have also recently chosen candidates to vie for the top office. The right to vote for our political leaders - whether conservative, liberal, or elsewhere on the political spectrum - is a right that far too few Americans exercise. And for many Americans that right was only attained after years of struggle.

In Vallejo, as in the rest of the United States, women fought for decades to win the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement in California was strident, vocal - and ultimately successful. California women gained the right to vote in 1911, nearly a decade before passage of the 19th amendment granted that right nationwide.

The women’s suffrage movement came to Vallejo as early as 1870. Recently, Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum researcher Marilyn Armstrong uncovered this interesting article from the Semi-Weekly Vallejo Recorder of January 7, 1870:

Lecture On Woman Suffrage

“We listened last evening to a portion of the lecture delivered by Mrs. Gordon at Eureka Hall on the subject of women’s rights. The audience was quite meager showing that our citizens are not duly interested in the movement. The lecture possessed some merit and was delivered in a calm dispassionate and graceful manner, but had evidently been well studied, cut and dried. The object of the lecture was explained fully which was to keep up the agitation of the question. Many of the positions taken by the lecturess were untenable and the conclusions drawn were fallacious. She rehashed much of that nonsense and simple stuff which has long since become ‘weary, stale, flat and unprofitable’ and attempted to answer the arguments which any sensible person who is opposed to woman’s transcending the sphere for which she was intended by nature, could urge. No doubt Mrs. Gordon is a woman of some education and accomplishments but that she has mistaken her calling is apparent."

Questions arise:

Did the otherwise unidentified “Mrs. Gordon” live long enough to exercise her legal right to vote in California nearly forty years later?

Did the editors of the Vallejo newspaper rethink the condescending attitude shown in this article and eventually come around to support women’s suffrage?

Have women’s voices (and votes) influenced the course of American politics since this important right was attained?

The lesson learned?

Get out and vote!