March 8 is International Women’s Day and a perfect time to take a look at the role women have played in maritime history. What you may not know is that women have played a pivotal role in shaping the marine industry almost as much as men.
While it is true that during the late 1800s and early 1900s, women were seldom allowed on ships, many women disguised themselves as men to start a career in sailing. And even though women were only allowed to work on merchant vessels for quite some time, they quickly began to take on more responsibilities, becoming valuable assets onboard and taking on the men’s duties in emergencies.
Mary Patten was famous for taking command of a clipper ship in the 1850’s when Captain Joshua Patten was struck with an illness that affected his eyesight. Mary Patten, who was also pregnant at the time, successfully navigated the ship to safety while tending to her husband. Quite the brave journey!
Anna Ivanova Shchetinina
Another brave woman was Anna Ivanova Shchetinina, a Soviet merchant marine sailor who entered the navigation department of the Vladivostek Marine School in 1925 and became the world’s first woman to serve as captain of an ocean-going vessel in 1935.
Women were brought in to work at the shipyards during World War II and by the time 1943 was midway through, women made up nearly 65% of shipyard workers on the United States West Coast. Not only did women prove that they were just as competent as men in the shipyard, but some even performed better than men at the same job.
Sharon Sites Adams
Women continued to set records like Sharon Sites Adams who in 1965 became the first woman to sail along from California to Hawaii, which she did in only 39 days, after having her sailing license for less than a year! In 1969, she returned to San Diego from Yokohama, Japan and after seventy-four days’ sailing from Japan, received her title as the first woman to sail solo across the Pacific. She was named the Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year in 1969.
Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz became the first female sailor to have single-handedly circumnavigated the earth in 1978. She was also a shipbuilding engineer and yachting sea captain, earning the title “First Lady of the Oceans.”
In 1989 British sailor Tracy Edwards skippered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race AND became the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year trophy.
Laura Dekker broke sailing world records in 2010 as the youngest person to ever circumnavigate the globe at the age of 16!
One of the best-known sailors in the world is Dawn Riley. She was the first woman to manage an entire America’s Cup syndicate, the first American, man or woman, to sail in three America’s Cups and two Whitbread Round the World races and is one of the forerunners in providing community access into the sport of sailing.
These are just a few of the MANY women who have made their mark in maritime history. We are inspired by these incredible ladies and raise a glass in their honor today!