Longshoremen vote to establish prepaid dental care for members' children on February 8, 1954.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 5/06/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5699
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On February 8, 1954, delegates to a Bellingham meeting of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, vote to spend $750,000 of surplus pension and benefit funds on a pilot program to provide prepaid dental care for the children of ILWU members in Washington, Oregon, and California. The program is the brain child of Goldie Krantz, West Coast Welfare Fund administrator, and it leads to the creation of the Washington State Dental Service Corporation the following October. Its successor, Washington Dental Service, will grow to become the state's largest dental care insurer with more than 800,000 primary enrollees in 2004.

Socialized Dentistry?

In 1953, pension and benefit managers for the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA, representing shippers and dock owners) calculated that the union had accumulated a surplus of more than three quarters of a million dollars. ILWU-PMA Welfare Fund manager Goldie Krantz championed spending the funds on prepaid dental care for an estimated 4,000 children of union members. Her proposal was endorsed by ILWU delegates and by Welfare Fund trustees in early 1954. The Fund then approached dental associations in Washington, Oregon, and California to secure their participation.

Dentists were wary of what many considered to be a form of "socialized dentistry," particularly given the leftist policies and views of ILWU president Harry Bridges. Seattle-area Welfare Fund administrator Hazel Mori's overtures to the Washington State Dental Association were initially rebuffed. As later related by Burt Goodman, D.D.S., she told the WSDA, "We can do it with you or without you. Are you in or not?"

WSDA executive secretary Robert E. Paulsen got the message. He persuaded his board and members that "the only way the dental association can keep control of dentistry will be to operate such programs." On October 8, 1954, the Washington State Dental Service Corporation was founded "To secure to individuals and groups of individuals, including modest wage earners and their families, dental services [access] to which many such individuals and members of their family have heretofore been deprived." The corporation also pledged "To encourage, foster and finance professional and scientific study and research in the general field of dentistry ... and to assist in the education and enlightenment of the public concerning the needs and advantages of adequate dental treatment."

Aches and Gains

Under Paulsen's leadership, nearly 500 dentists in Washington -- two-thirds of the profession -- signed on to take WSDSC enrollees at prescribed fees for treatment. Similar corporations were also established in Oregon and California. On February 1, 1955, the Welfare Fund paid it first premium, $20,800, for the care of ILWU enrollees, and the program was made permanent on April 1, 1957, to serve more than 11,000 children on the West Coast.

WSDSC endured many challenges, including continued resistance from some dentists. It reorganized in June 1960 as the Washington Dental Service, and severed organizational ties with the WSDA in 1970. WDS established the Washington Dental Service Foundation in 1985 to fund research and public services such as the "SmileMobile" and was a charter member of the national Delta Dental consortium of prepaid plans. Directed today (2004) by former Port of Seattle CEO James Dwyer, WDS serves more than 800,000 primary enrollees and nearly two million total beneficiaries.


Cassandra Tate & the HistoryLink Staff, Service with a Smile: The first 50 years of Washington Dental Service (Seattle: WDS, 2004).

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