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Women Workers in Hawai‘i’s Pineapple Industry

Pineapple cannery foreladies dressed in their white uniforms

Foreladies at Hapco (Hawaiian Pineapple Company) cannery, ca. 1930. (Photo courtesy Mabel Kozuki.)

Hawai‘i’s pineapple industry, begun on a commercial scale in 1903, has historically been one of the largest employers of women.

“Because I got a chance to work for this company, my husband and I could support our children and educate them, and they are where they are now. I’m very thankful because it’s a honest-working job, good-paying job, too.” —Liiko Nouchi

Two or three cannery shifts were scheduled during the summer when pineapple tends to ripen. Regular workers were employed on a full-time basis the year round whether or not the cannery was running; intermittents worked whenever the cannery was operating, regardless of the time of year; seasonals were hired only for the peak summer season; non-regulars were the field equivalent of intermittents. Most of the seasonals and intermittents were women, while most of the regulars were men.

Students and some homemakers found that summer employment suited their needs well.

“January, February, March, you don’t work. Then, April, you work maybe couple days, and you stay home. You collect compensation. Then, maybe May — the later part of May — then you start working as a summer (worker) until September. Maybe the first or the second week, the cannery shut down. Then you stay home.” —Ida Milles

The work of pineapple packing and trimming was done by white caps, or ordinary workers.

“. . . you grab the pine like this, with your thumb (in the core hole). And then, you trim it. CPC (California Packing Corporation), they don’t care how you trim. As long you don’t trim thick and everything. But Hawaiian Pine, no, they strict. When there’s a eye, you just have to make (i.e., pick out) the eye.” —Adeline Naniole

“They put me on the packing side, and I couldn’t pack right. Every time the forelady came, she emptied all those things (i.e., cans), put it back, and she said, ‘ Try again.’ I don’t know if I couldn’t see (the difference in pineapple grades) or. . . . Not too bright, that’s what it was. So by the end of the day, she said I didn’t have to come back next day.” —Emma Peneku

There were relievers, or brown caps, whose job it was to take the place of white caps who went to the restroom or who fell behind in their work. Above the relievers in rank were the foreladies, or blue caps, who supervised from one to six tables. Usually, three section heads helped the head forelady supervise the whole packing or trimming procedure.

“When I first started to work — a packer — and maybe couple of years, you work. Then they feel that you’re doing fine. Then they pick you up, and they say, ‘ You go inspection.’ You work on inspection, then they promote you to a reliever — seasonal reliever. Then, they come up to forelady.” —Margaret “Nona” Chang

The industry also provided the women an important source of social interaction.

“We had our own club, foreladies and relievers. ‘ Jolly Packers.’ . . . We would picnic. Go Ala Moana (Shopping) Center. Sometimes go countryside, or outer islands. . . . This group is very understanding group and have a lot of cooperation. They never hate each other and fight each other.” —Mabel Kozuki

 

Link to audioJulia Souza describes how she was selected for cannery work (.au sound file, 182K).

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