Thursday 3 December 2015

Women doctors on cruise ship assist in rescue of woman overboard

Santa Monica Women Help Life-Saving Rescue At Sea,By Bette Harris. This is a post direct from the Santa Monica Mirror, 2 Dec 2015.

" The quick response of two Santa Monica women aboard a cruise ship, led to the rescue of a passenger, who went overboard into the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Italy.
Dr. Sherry Ross (pictured left) and Dr. Peggy Gutierrez (pictured below) witnessed the woman plunge into the water at approximately 1:30 am on Nov. 8, as the ship traveled from Civitavecchia to Portoferraio. They immediately reported the incident to the crew of Windstar Cruise’s Star Breeze, then made every attempt to keep the victim in sight, while calling words of encouragement and keeping the victim engaged.

Details are unclear as to how or why the 43-year-old American passenger went overboard, but once in the water she fought hard to survive, back-floating and shouting for help. The crew activated rescue operations, shooting flares into the sky and tossing into the water a buoy containing a light and GPS feature, although by that time, the victim was no longer in sight.

Apparently, the crew used sophisticated computer calculations and a study of the water’s currents to estimate the coordinates of the victim’s location, as the ship reversed course. After well over an hour, the victim was sighted and pulled from the sea. Calm waters and relatively moderate Mediterranean temperatures were said to be factors in the woman’s survival, in addition to her own will, strength, and endurance.

The Chief Officer told Doctors Ross and Gutierrez that 99 percent of those who fall into the water on a cruise ship are not found alive.

The ship’s crew and passengers praised the heroic actions of the two Westside women, who were the sole witnesses to the accident, and whose immediate and intelligent reaction averted tragedy and saved a life. Both women are also highly regarded in their professional lives.

Dr. Ross has a private medical practice at Providence St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Gutierrez is Principal at Locke High School in Los Angeles, serving students in the community of Watts.

As to the rescued passenger’s welfare, the Chief Officer reported that she is doing well and traveling through Europe."

Saturday 21 November 2015

Photographing WW2 Wrens - and Wren photographers

Today, at the National Media Museum in Bradford, the Royal Photographic Society ran a Women in Photography Day. (See

One of the four speakers, Anthony Penrose, offered a moving and interesting presentation about his mother, Lee Miller (pictured below by David Scherman), and her work photographing women in WW2. Miller's subjects included members of the Women's Royal Naval Service (Wrens).

Some were published in Vogue November 1941, accompanying an article by romantic traveller Lesley Blanch. In W.R.N.S. on the job Blanch said:

'[A}lready I observe [that]... type distinctions are crystallising in the women’s services. The W.A.A.F. product is entirely different from that of the A.T.S. The Wrens, in their turn, have produced an individual type: a face, manner and spirit as much their own, and the outcome of navy traditions, as the ‘bell-bottom serge’ uniforms they wear so well.

'Officers and ratings are alike in forming this definite Wren type. In abstract, the Wren has a serenity, even a faint austerity, a balanced detachment: a quietness which is not dull, a dignity which is not pompous. They are disciplined rather than dragooned, unified, rather than uniform.

'And lest these sober eulogies give the impression that the Wrens are smug patterns of female virtue, icily removed from the pleasures and tempo of the times, I hasten to add they are pretty and feminine, as well-groomed as well-dressed, and as concerned with complexion, manicure and hairdressing as any other women, in or out of uniform.' (
I myself think Blanch's view was fanciful, totalising and rather silly.

Wrens were a more diverse bunch. Lee Miller's pictures made this point very effectively. Her images implicily suggest a much more nuanced view.

Four years later Hollis & Carter (who later published the autobiography of WRNS director Vera Laughton Mathews), published other images by Miller in a 79-page volume, Wrens in Camera. The words were by KM Palmer, by far the best journalist describing WW2 Wrens' lives.

My favourite Lee Miller photo of Wrens is this one, because it shows women's daring use of risky spaces. 'Wrens climbing down from the quarter boom', © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.

Join the Wrens and become a photographer

Ironically, joining the WRNS was a very good way for a woman to gain training as a photographer. The WRNS employed at least two women in ‘photography work’ in WW1. During WW2 some were assistants (see pic).

Some were proper photographers. One of them, Pat Gould (see pic) made the front cover of Illustrated News magazine as ‘Fleet Air Arm Camera girl.’

Lipsticked (for the camera, as Wrens in uniform could not wear makeup), confident, and in her flying gear the Wren was posed in the sun against an aircraft, bearing a camera as long as her arm. She was a visual suggestion that this was a glamorous travelling job - a kind of Lee Miller-style job, in fact. Some 180 Wrens were trained in all-female groups. (

After the war no Wrens were photographers until 1969, when twenty one Wrens were trained as Photographic Assistants. The change was probably a way to deal with staffing shortages and to cut costs (as non-seagoing staff, Wrens did not have to be paid the sea allowance to which naval men were entitled).

Three years later the ‘assistant’ tag was dropped. From 1971 ‘Wren Photographers’ followed a similar path to naval men. According to Jan Larcombe, who after 1981 was the Senior Instructor at the Naval Photographic School, in 1987 Wrens were fully integrated with the male training at the Joint School of Photography RAF Cosford.

WRNS photographers were often sent to ships in port as they were better received than their male colleagues; a woman could brighten men’s days and her camera was forgiven.

Today, there continues to be a Photographic Branch of the Navy, which includes 41 female and male photographers. They still train at the (now) Defence School of Photography, at RAF Cosford. (See Jan Larcombe's excellent archive at

Women in Photography
This day school in Bradford today asked interesting questions including the perennial one about whether women's art is different from men's. The answer seemed to be 'not necessarily, but women photographers' processes are different.'

This includes our relationships with sitters, and our access to money and power. Inequalities affect the equipment and training we can get, and the way our work is received, especially by galleries and photographic organisations.

It's very interesting to look for difference in style between images of Wrens by Miller and by male photographers, such as George HW Tomlin, see pic below.

Of course, the Wrens couldn't choose the way they were represented. By contrast, when Linda Marchant was speaking about Pinewood photographer Cornel Lucas's images, she revealed that some female stars told photographers what they wanted. Diana Dors, for example, commanded Lucas to come to the right spot to take this picture of her in her mink bikini on a gondola in Venice, 1955 during the film festival.

Confident stars at film festivals might seem a far cry from servicewomen in wartime. But the connection is that Wrens were also civilian women whose ideas of themselves were partly constructed by Hollywood.

The flattering versions of their identities as servicewomen were bolstered by the ways they were represented by photographers such as Miller and Cecil Beaton (see pic). These Wrens looked like could-be stars, not just lowly support staff for the Navy. Heroic, bold, confident - and yes, admirably stylish.

That version of Wrens as ultra-chic women who could cope with anything continued to be purveyed in post-war movies.
This included the iconic 1953 naval war feature The Cruel Sea. Its Wren star, Virginia McKenna - Third Officer Julie Hallam, was later portayed by Lucas.

This blog item arises from research I'm doing for my next book, Women and the Royal Navy, IB Tauris/Nationa; Museum of the Royal Navy, 2017.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Dates for your diary 2015-16: my talks and papers

I will be speaking about maritime history in its broadest sense at the following events in late 2015-2016.

9 Nov 2015, Marsden, West Yorkshire.
Ayahs who travelled: Indian nannies’ voyages to Britain 1850s-1920s.
Marsden History Society, Mechanics Institute, Peel Street, Marsden. 7.30 pm. Cost £2.

14 Dec 2015, Turn, Italy.
When the ‘ladies’ took to loading: a preliminary survey of gendered stevedoring practices in history
Pioneering sea women: what helped them break through – and climb to the top.
At the maritime section of the first Conference of the European Labour History Network (ELHN), afternoon session.

Jan 11 2016, Hull. Women on the bridge: 150 years of patchy progress in equal opportunities in maritime work, 1855-2015.
Maritime Historical Studies Centre, Blaydes House, High Street, Hull, 6pm. Cost free.

4 Feb 2016, London. Hilarious Seasickness: Comic Postcards' Take on Travel's Costs, 1900-1950.
At King's Maritime History Seminar, at 17:15 in Room K6.07, Dept of War Studies, Kings College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS (6th Floor, King’s Building). Cost free.

26-27 Feb 2016. Manchester. Cabin ‘boys’: cross-dressed women seafarers and their sexualities
a master class jointly with Emma Vickers:Doing Oral history with LGBT interviewees at Imperial War Museum North.
LGBT History Festival. Exact slots tbc.

Monday 14 September 2015

Pirates of the Caribbean and feminist academics

The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie being made is Dead Men Tell No Tales. And Carina Smyth, the female lead, is to be a feminist bluestocking.
Kaya Scodelario (pictured below), who plays that role, says Carina 'is an astronomer, and she is an academic. She's fighting for the right to study at university, because women couldn't at that time.'
It's very good to hear that a mainstream movie is addressing injustice in education and showing that women were anyway pioneer scholars.
Read more:

Yes, women could be astronomers
If Pirates of the Caribbean is set in c1700 then in fact it was only 180 years later that the first women pioneers took STEM subjects at universities, and over 240 years before they were awarded degrees.
But some technically-minded women, such as Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), (pictured on right) pursued their interests in such matters even without access to universities. In 1786 Caroline became history's first woman to identify a comet.

Saturday 12 September 2015

How do mermaids make babies: animation artist ' explains'

At last week's Women's History Network Conference artist Professor Joan Ashworth was talking about her animation of suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst.
But Joan also referred to an animation none of us had seen before: 'How Mermaids Breed'. She made this in 2002.

The Facts of Mer-Life ...

And for those of you who want to know how ladies with tails achieve the feat of growing and delivering a merbaby, here's the answer.
First of all the mermaid wakens to her biological bell ringing: it's time to become a mamma.
She surges up, hauls herself onto the beach and lays her eggs, through a slit in her lower fin. She then buries them under light sand.
Then, she and the mermaid team wreck a seaman. Not with Syren-like beguiling calls but by taking up the corners of the sea as if it's a sheet, then shaking it out until the poor baby-father's boat capsizes.
Gently, the team take him below. While he's out of it they apply an ingenious pump and extract semen from him. Under the watchful eye of the senior Matron-mermaid they keep him from drowning with another of their clever machines.
Finally, he's escorted up to safety. He thinks he's just had a dream. And the mer-mother-to be takes the flagon containing his donation and injects the eggs.
A little while later the lighthouse beam shows us the babies hatching and their return to the underworld (see pic below). So now we know. This is how mermaids make babies. For sure.

Different sorts of mermaids

These mermaids are neither ravening vamps nor sea-porn maidens. They're kindly slow creatures, like dugongs-cum-Henry Moore sculptures, and they probably have degrees in mechanical engineering too.
You have to see their clever contraptions, including the hourglass, and enjoy the sound effects.
Joan Ashworth's fascinating work can be seen at The book, Shaped by Water, and the DVD are available to buy there.

First African woman to take command of navy vessel

This is simply a re-posting of articles on the first African woman to take command of a navy vessel.

From Wed 26 August 2015 Lieutenant Commander Zimasa Mabela was 'at the helm of SAS Umhloti.' A senior Naval Officer, Lieutenant Obed Medupe says 'We are looking up at more women taking over commanding vessels.'
Her's is a counter measures ship. Ships in that River class carry 40 personnel and weigh about 390 tons. Other women in command in the UK Navy started off on smiliar small ships in the late 1990s.
You can find more photos and even a video at shows Zimasa Mabela with her husband, Ivan, their two daughters and her mother at the ceremony in Simon's Town on 26 August 2015. Picture Monique Mortlock/EWN

In the Cape Times the next day Francesca Villette added detail. Lieutenant-Commander Zimasa Mabela joined the South African Navy in 1999.
'Mabela, originally from the Eastern Cape, joined the Navy in 1999 as a telecommunications radio official because she was “fascinated” by the force.
'In 2004 she completed the Military Training for Officers course in Gordon’s Bay and then the Combat Officer qualifying course at the Navy’s maritime warfare training centre.
'She joined the frigate SAS Isandlwana in 2005 and was appointed as the Assistant Operations Officer, where she obtained the Officer of the Day qualification.
'In 2006, Mabela obtained her Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate and was later appointed as the Assistant Weapons Officer.
Commander Brian Short, former commander of the vessel, handed over command to Mabela at a ceremony at the Simon’s Town Naval Base.


'Lieutenant-Commander Zimasa Mabela said “I remember how excited I was when I first got accepted to be a part of the Navy. I am proud to be the first black African woman to command a naval vessel. But, more than the title, I want to be an example to my crew.
'“I want to be judged on my ability to command, and not my gender.
'“Everyone has their own unique way of leading and to be in command you need the right attitude and personality.That is what will take you far.”
'Without divulging much state-secret information, Mabela said the vessel she will command is currently used for training new recruits and performing rescue operations.' (

Thursday 27 August 2015

Giving birth to babies at sea

Sophia, aged 3 days, is currently the most famous baby, certainly sea-baby, in the world. Representations of her, her mother and the surgical team are on youtube ( because she was born on a ship. Her refugee mother Rahma fled Somalia five months ago.
Sophia was born on the naval frigate Schleswig-Holstein on 24 August which helped the multi-navy rescue of 4,400 migrants in four struggling craft last Saturday, 22 August. The UK Navy's hydrographic vessel Enterprise took Rahma aboard first, before transferring her.
Francesca Marina, a Nigerian baby (see pic below) was born in May on an Italian Navy ship. The Bettica rescued her economic migrant mother Stephanie Samuel from a people-smuggling boat that stalled after only being at sea for three hours.
“I didn’t expect the baby, you know, but she just came,” said Ms Samuel. “I just wanted to leave Libya. Italy is better than Libya and Nigeria is the worst.”
The baby was named after Italy’s Marina Militare (Navy.) (For video see Her dad is still in Libya.
At that point Francesca Marina was the sixth baby to be born on an Italian Navy ship.
Sophia is said to be the first to be born on a German Navy ship (but records of such matters are usually unreliable)
Sophia and Francesca are symbols of the human side of refugees’ plight. The media spotlight on them should help generate more sympathy for other fleeing people, although Sophia is already also the target of xenophic posts.

Babies have been born, conceived, aborted and miscarried on ships for centuries:
~ European women fleeing the fall of Singapore went into labour on tiny rust buckets, under fire in February 1942. Some miscarried.
~ Nineteenth-century British migrating mothers headed for new lives deceived doctors about how pregnant they were (28 weeks is today's maximum). Everyone on board celebrated the arrival of these non-paying passengers and contributed items for their layettes.
~ Muslim pilgrims in the 1950s thought it lucky to have a child on route to Mecca. So British women doctors such as Joyce Watkin gained some of their first opportunities to work at sea, on Blue Funnel Line pilgrim ships. There they dealt with miscarriages as well as births.
~ In May Alice Keir secretly bore, then neglected to death, her full-term first baby on a Caribbean cruise ship. Cleaning team staff found the corpse under the bed. Alice is on trial.

Naming practices
On merchant and warships alike, new arrivals are named after the ship or the surgeon. Naval history books routinely celebrate babies born on battleships, such as Daniel Tremendous Mackenzie on the Tremendous in the Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794.
He even got a medal for being in that battle. (His mum didn’t. Women weren’t even allowed to apply for awards.)
By this token, we might wonder whether Sophia will be called Schleswig-Holstein (a bit of mouthful); after the surgeon who delivered her, Darius X; or what.
But how does the trauma get recorded too? In an invisible middle initial 'T'?

A counter-intuitive ‘maternity ward’
There’s a fascinating piquant irony about a new infant emerging in container devoted to war. Unlike a maternity unit, a battleship’s a place where carnage was normal. The blood that surgeons routinely dealt with is that spilt by male warriors as a result on enemy action.
It feels so counter-intuitive, that something so tiny and politically innocent can appear in a climate of conflict between nations, of hyper-masculine heroic endeavour, and only patchy tenderness and vulnerability.
Certainly a new baby and an umbilical cord, on a warship, seem like a classic example of matter out of place, in anthropologist Mary Douglas’s terms.

Symbolic meanings
But more interestingly – and less traceably – what has Sophia’s delivery at sea meant to all those involved?
Travel is transformative, as scholars such as those at argue. Transfers, as the journal of that name ( reveals, have all sorts of significances.
# So what will it mean to the grownup Sophia’s sense of identity that she was born in this military container, after being at risk in a tiny craft full of traumatised migrants? That she and her mother were transferred from African strugggle to privileged Europe in this water-bourne way?
# Will her mother have a slightly easier life in her new land, because the high-profile (but anonymised) transfer of the baby from womb to warship will bring charitable gifts and offers of support?
# Will German sailors be enabled to think differently about this Other – a young female, a black civilian, a migrant in desperate need (not a state employee like them) – because they witnessed this ‘anomaly’ close-up in their own home-workplace? They know the reality of voyages for the less-privilegd people like these migrants pictured below, often the victims of people smugglers who would,presumably, disregard pregnancy.

Friday 14 August 2015

Singaporean women head for maritime engineering

Singaporean women are turning to maritime engineering, reports Olivia Ho in today's Straits Times 14 August 2015
World wide, women have been under-represented in enginering work on ships. In the UK they're less than one per cent, and some maritime colleages have no women at all doing their engineering courses some years.

Olivia tells a more positive story:
'"One should not think that seafaring is restricted to a man's world," Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) chief executive Andrew Tan said at last month's Maritime Manpower Conference. In fact, more women are joining the industry, he added.
'An MPA spokesman said more than 20 Singaporean women obtained their first Certificate of Competency from 2011 to this year, up from about 11 from 2000 to 2010. The qualification is required for those working on ships.
At the Singapore Maritime Academy, female students make up 20 per cent of the Diploma in Marine Engineering cohort, up from 15 per cent in 2010.

Engineering cadet Lim Pio Teo
'For Ms Lim Pio Teo, 27 [pictured above] becoming a maritime engineer was a chance to turn the excitement she felt as a child, when taking a ferry to Batam, into a career. "I have always liked the sea a lot. It calms and relaxes me," she said.
'Ms Lim, who first set sail in 2008, is now a second engineer with global shipping company APL, and said she hopes to work her way up to become the chief engineer of a vessel.
'Her 52-year-old father, who sells pork at a wet market, surprised her with his support when she told him of her career choice. She said: "When I drop by to help at the market during shore leave, he will always tell customers that this is the daughter who has gone sailing."

Family support helps women get on

'Singapore Maritime Officers' Union (SMOU) general secretary Mary Liew [pictured above, photo from SMOU] said family support is a key factor in getting more women to become seafarers. It is also important to fight close-minded attitudes among some bosses and colleagues.
'Ms Liew, who in 2013 became the first woman to helm the 64-year-old union, said: "A common mindset is that women are physically less able than men, so it may be unsuitable, or unsafe for them to be out at sea for months with a predominantly male crew.
'"It is a lack of understanding and awareness that gives rise to such misguided conceptions."
'SMOU's Tripartite Nautical Training Award, a place-and-train programme for naval officers that began in 2009, has started seeing female cadets in only the last two years. The first two were admitted last year, and the third, this year.

"I can do it too!"

'Ms Nurfaezah Ithnin, 24, was one of the two female cadets admitted last year. She left a bartending job last year to pursue what she felt were better career prospects at sea.
She said she was nervous when she boarded her first ship. Now on her second voyage, she said: "The only way to not be teased by the crew was to show them that I could do the same jobs. The crew knows to help only when I ask for it. Other than that, I can do it."'

~ This URL also provides interesting links to other seafaring women in the region.
~ Women seafarers are featured at:

Wet nursing on ships: sisterly support and a necessary business

A hot topic today

Breast-feeding other women’s babies at sea. Where in maritime historiography are these lost stories of generosity, of life-saving, of sisterly support -- or, more practically, women’s private enterprise in a monopoly situation, the ship in mid-ocean?
Is it the general lack of work on travellers' emotions,including necessary trust, that means we don't we know much about situations of heightened mutual dependency at sea, apart from during the wrecking of ships and in lifeboats?
I'm thinking about those troubled intense times on voyages when people absolutely have to supplement for each other when (sea- or other) sickness hits. That includes seafarers generously covering each other's jobs when a shipmate is ill or distressed, or ships' passengers looking after the children of mothers too incapacitated to do anything? (This can be taken as a proof of the African adage that it takes a whole village to bring up a child).

The question comes up because wet nursing is a hot topic in the UK this month. Today BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour focused on wet nursing ( Debate has been triggered because a picture of Jessica Anne Colletti (pictured above) breastfeeding her son and a friend’s child went viral. (
Also a survey by Netmums, the website for mothers, last week found one in 25 British mothers are already wet nursing another's baby. Two in five women said they would do so.

Wet nursing at sea in the past

On ships this intimate supplementing happened too. However, the extent is not known because the subject, like menstruation at sea, has been regarded as not quite seemly.
Passengers' letters and diaries certainly make clear that some women on ships helped each other, with child care and especially when ill.
But there's little detail about the physical realities and emotions, so we can only speculate on the meanings of these intimate exchanges.
How far did that help extend? It’s partly dictated by the weather.
Wet nursing and seasickness are crucially linked because if nursing mothers suffer badly from mal-de-mer they become dehydrated and eventually stop lactating. At least one in ten people suffer from seasickness, and effective remedies were rare before the 1940s.
No-one would stand by and let a baby die of starvation. Of course shipmates who had copious enough milk would have stepped in. Peer pressure might have propelled them, too, if the child was so very distressed that the crying disturbed the whole ship.
Class relations and custom meant that the family of an elite mother would think it quite normal to send down to steerage for a labouring-class woman to do this job.

Wet nurse saves Manuel Lagos Besteiro’s life
In 1912 when Pepita Lagos Besteiro was returning to Havana from Madrid with her husband and baby Manolo, the six-month-old became so sick that the ship's surgeon pronounced that he would probably not survive the voyage.
But a willing wet nurse was found on board. And, says the family’s website, this unnamed woman (pictured with Manolo) successfully suckled Manolo back to health, ’to the point where it was noted that he had a ruddy complexion by the time the boat arrived in Cuba.’(

Different ships, same needy babies
Without doubt other nursing mothers fed their shipmates’ babies too, on:
~ convict ships in the 1700s
~ migrant ships in the 1800s and 1900s
~ floating nurseries, post-war bride ships in WW1 and WW2

(WW2 brideship babies, mothers and nurses dine on board. Pic by Barney J. Gloster/Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-175792)

After world war one, women on bride ships were in a particularly intense mothering situation, which could become a health-care crisis. Mothers of babies and children were traveling to the homes of their new servicemen husbands, on troop-ships unsuited for this new purpose.
On some WW2 brideships nursing mothers were much more officially controlled by the military than in WW1, partly to avoid epidemics of infection. On Canadian ships infants' mothers were made to switch to using formula milk - which of course caused stress. It was a hard situation for both babies and mothers to adjust to.
At least one in ten people are seasick. So on choppy voyages to the Antipodes and South Africa warbrides, and later Ten Pound Poms, would surely have assisted each other in providing breast milk.

Wet nursing at sea: the meanings
Historian Christina Hardyment, on Woman’s Hour, differentiated between two sorts of wet nursing arrangements on land:
~ between friends or family, when it was done out of kindness and concern
~ paid relationships, which would have meant both that an obliging woman was found, and employed on a casual basis, or that the passenger took her wet nurse with her

Wet nurse Margaret MacIwain (probably a mis-spelling), aged 26, sailed on the Manhattan from Liverpool to New York in September 1857. If she was lactating at that point she would have helped any needy baby -- for money, or at least for a grateful gift.
However, if she was sailing with a family by whom she was already engaged as a wet nurse, then she might not have been able to be generous. This would be especially true if she had a small supply of milk, perhaps because she was already feeding more than one greedy baby, or because she was too poorly.

Feminist journalist Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), by contrast, prepared for her voyage from Italy home to New York by weaning her son in spring 1850. Angelino had been born in early September 1848, so he was nineteen months old.
Margaret and her revolutionary marquis partner couldn't afford to pay for his 'great stout Roman mother of the flesh’, the wet nurse, to accompany them, even if the woman had been willing. Nino had to learn, in two months, how to do without the breast.
On the three-masted sail ship Elizabeth, Nino got his milk from the nanny goat. The five-week voyage ended fatally for them all when the ship foundered, and sank, says Margaret Fuller’s biographer Megan Marshall.


Voyages can often be very bonding experiences enriched by intense but fleeting friendships. Comradeship and the suspension of xenophobia are the most fascinating aspects of this heterotopic off-shore place.
For me it's rather a moving idea that not only did some people step off at the other side with new friends for life (which was particularly the case with WW2 bride ships). Children also left a ship with milk-kin, 'sisters and brothers' bonded by the shared breast.
The lost history of wet nursing at sea would be invaluable in helping us understand how gendered power relations were changed in these peculiar floating hotel and boarding houses so far from land.
My questions, which will probably never be answered, are:
~ how did this once-acceptable practice of hiring a wet nurse worked at sea when family were white and the wet nurse was a Chinese amah or Indian ayah. Did she have to feed the baby in private, to avoid onlookers’ racist distaste? Was she allowed to take her own baby?
~ Wet nurses' successful production of milk would have been crucial to their value on the voyage. Did their luggage include herbs to help promote copious milk production?
~ When late-nineteenth-century shipping companies advertised that their passenger ships carried a cow, was this a recognition that taking a wet nurse was something fewer people could now afford? Were children weaned early if they were involved in migration?

Monday 13 July 2015

US's first cruise ship captain, Kate McCue

One of the best things about exploring mountains of information about the way women have progressed in maritime history is that I know when feats are mega-feats, par-for-the-course, or odd. Comparisons can be illuminating.

So when today Celebrity Cruises announced their first woman captain, Kate McCue, it's very interesting to see where she fits in two contexts: women cruise ship captains all over the world, and US women captains.

(This information is extracted from my forthcoming history of women at sea:
From Cabin 'Boys' to Captains. It's being published by the History Press, April 2016. There's a whole chapter on women breaking through into deck work, including the first women captains.)

Kate McCue is one of several illustrious women who have finally been allowed to captain huge cruise ships, since 2003. Some cruise ships captained by women are twice the size of hers; many go worldwide, not only the US's east coast, as she will be doing.
She is the successor of women masters who began sailing in the 1830s. Women really broke through in the 1930s in a small way, and then more routinely from the 1970s following anti-discrimination legislation.
The US Navy has been allowing women in command (of small warships) for a decade, so Captain McCue's feat is surprisingly late in US history. However, she has risen to this height relatively quickly, after only fifteen years.

The breakthroughs on cruise ships
2003: Inger Klein Olsen became staff captain on the Seabourn Pride, then took command of the Queen Victoria in 2010, Cunard’s first woman captain.
2007: Karin Stahre Janson (pictured) became Royal Caribbean International’s first woman captain on the Monarch of the Seas and the first woman to command a major cruise ship.
2008: Lis Lauritzen became relief captain on RCI’s Jewel of the Seas followed by command of the Vision of the Seas in 2011.
2010: Sarah Breton became captain on P&O Cruises’ Artemis, followed by command of P&O Cruises Australia’s Pacific Pearl in 2011.
2015: Kate McCue becomes Celebrity Cruises' first woman cruise ship captain, on the Celebrity Summit.

Earlier US women captains
US women were captains from 1887. They included Philomène Daniels, ’the first female steamship captain’ (pictured below) Mary M Miller, and Mary W Coons.
Lots of 'firsts' were claimed, in women's maritime history, I've found. Maybe communications weren't good enough to allow for checking and corroboration.
Possibly the first certificated US captain was was Ivy Wambolt (1910-1976)
Captain Ivy commented to a newspaper that ‘It was natural for me to go to sea … my father and my brothers all went … Following the sea is much more exciting than sitting at a pokey old desk. I get to go places, see things, and know that my ship is my own … I don’t see how it is unusual for a girl to be a captain. It happens to be my job.’
Ivy was followed by Molly Kool in 1939.

Worldwide pioneering woman captains

Worldwide, women have been captains since at least the 1830s. Some weren't certified, because formal qualifications, rather than experience, weren't initially required. The first woman captain on record in Western history is Betsy Miller,(1792-1864). Master of the Cloetus or Cletis, a 197-ton brig taking timber from Ardossan to Belfast, Dublin and Cork, she was from Saltcoats, Ayrshire, in Scotland.
Women in the early days, and they were rare, almost always rose to these heights because their family owned ships and had trained the woman to handle them. The women were known and trusted, and didn't initially do very long voyages.
They often got their opportunity because there was no-one else to help out in a crisis that would otherwise have ruined the family business.

Best person for the job

So Captain McCue is part of a new pattern: women who get their job on merit alone, because they are the best person for the job.
Her story, as it appears in US newspapers this morning, is below:

"MIAMI, July 13, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- For the first time in the cruise industry – and in Celebrity Cruises' history – an American female will take the helm of a mega-ton cruise ship. At 37 years of age, San Francisco native Kate McCue will command Celebrity Summit– a 91,000-ton, 965-foot ship in the Celebrity Cruises fleet, sailing between the eastern United States and Bermuda. As Captain, she will be responsible for the safe navigation of the ship and the onboard experience of its 2,158 guests and 952 crew members.

Career path

"The modern luxury cruise brand, which operates a fleet of 10 ships, has elevated McCue to the position of Captain based on her 15 years of successful experience and leadership in the maritime industry.
"During her tenure, McCue has managed ship logistics while sailing worldwide itineraries, including Europe, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and along the Panama Canal.
"Captain McCue has also served as a maritime leader while sailing several transatlantic and repositioning cruises, and played a notable role in the revitalization of ships in Singapore.
"A graduate of California State University's California Maritime Academy, Captain McCue has held a variety of roles in the maritime industry, beginning as a cadet and deck officer, then working through a series of successively more responsible positions to her most recent role as Master Mariner with Royal Caribbean International.
"McCue has earned numerous certifications in a variety of areas pertaining to leadership navigation, ship management and security.

Leading women in Celebrity Cruises
"Continuing Celebrity Cruises' dedication to advancing the role of women in leadership, Kate McCue's appointment follows that of Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, who was named President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises in December 2014.
"From the first time I met Kate, I looked forward to this moment, when I could extend my congratulations to her for being such a dynamic and highly respected leader who will continue to pave the way for women in the maritime industry," said Lutoff-Perlo.
"Of all the great moments throughout my career, this is at the top of my list. I am both honored that Kate accepted this position, and proud of the way our team continues to transform the way people think about Celebrity, and about cruising in general."

How Kate McCue sees it:

"Becoming the first female American captain of a cruise ship has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember," says McCue. "The honor is amplified by being the first at a company like Celebrity Cruises.
"The cruise industry is ever-evolving, from the ships and the itineraries, to our guests' expectations for vacation experiences. Celebrity has a history of delivering on each of these and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
"I look forward to working with an amazing team and the exceptional leadership who bring the Celebrity Cruises vision to life every day."

McCue will begin her new role on Celebrity Summit in August 2015.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Rozelle Raynes: she was there, and she wrote about it

Rozelle Raynes, a former Wren Stoker in WW2, and later a Merchant Navy assistant purser, died on June 22, age 89. Her most famous book was Maid Matelot: Adventures of a Wren Stoker in World War II (1971).
Obituaries appeared in the Times and Telegraph.
So I won't repeat details here. I will simply comment that from my perspective, as someone who knows womens' Merchant Navy and Royal Navy history), Rozelle exemplified three key trends in women's maritime history.

1.Posh gels in mucky jobs

Born in 1925 she enjoyed the war in one of the most highly-desired WW2 Women's Royal Naval Service jobs - working on small boats where about 300 women showed great mechanical prowess and even maritime passion. And she was one of the many aristocratic Boats Crew Wrens who did not, in any way, act grand; Lady Frederica Rozelle Ridgway Pierrepont's fingers were as begrimed as anyone else's and she was always democratic in her friendships.

2. A prize for commercial shipping - and a pioneer
She was one of the many Wrens whose WW2 experience of life in naval service enhanced their taste for the sealife to such an extent that they tried to join the Merchant Navy afterwards (You could work at sea in the MN, but not in the RN) at that time.
Like Elizabeth Sayer, the most famous pioneering ex-Wren who became a purser in 1947, Rozelle was snapped up by a company keen to employ staff who'd had all that excellent WRNS training, including informal training in socialising well, surviving happily far from home, and coping with being in situations where men outnumbered women by as much as a hundred to one. In the 1960s she was one of the early women assistant pursers on Townsend ferries , crossing between Dover and Calais.

3. Hooked! A boatie forever

Wartime WRNS service seemed to turn many women towards enjoying recreation on small boats, including long and risk-taking voyages after the war. In From Rudders to Udders Jane Taylor, Rozelle's contemporary, describes lived on a floating shop-gas station on the Hamble. She later went on become master of a ferry. Rozelle did a single-handed yachtswoman who did epic voyages and wrote about them.
Painting of Rozelle as a girl, by her mother. © The Stonebridge Trust, The Pierrepont Collection. It can be seen at what was once her ancestral home, Thoresby, Notts.
A beacon and the best of avatars</
A few score more of her remarkable sort may still be alive (and slowly, sadly giving up their boating). But no-one celebrated that life in print as Rozelle did. Her articles then books kept alive that culture of women's avid post-1940s seafaring. She inspired sea-mindedness in countless others who didn't have that WRNS experience (but would like to have had it),decades before yachtswomen Clare Frances and Ellen MacArthur.
For me Rozelle Raynes is the best woman writer about seafaring of her period. No-one matches her. If the small and disparate world of women seafarers gave out medals she would certainly have been awarded the highest and shiniest one For Enabling Women to Access Seafaring. She showed girls and women the sea was a place open to women, which they could approach with agency and enjoy with verve.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Fleet Week - the sexualised version in New York

‘Fleet Week is NYC's official gay week-long holiday. It's like Passover for gays.’

(Fleet Week, 2005)

It was only when the Huffington Post asked me to speak about the LGBTI people and New York’s Fleet Week, yesterday, that I came across this phenomenon that must fascinate all anthropologists and anyone into maritime culture.
This spectacle, from 20-26 May 2015, is designed to publicise an aspect of a nation’s military might. But it’s been appropriated as a festival of, well, lusting. Queer lusting. And women’s heterosexual lusting. Hello indeed, sailors!

Officially, Fleet Week number 27 in New York now means a ‘time-honored celebration of the sea services, and an unparalleled opportunity for the citizens of New York and the surrounding tri-state area to meet Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as witness firsthand the latest capabilities of today's maritime services …
‘In addition to public visitation of participating ships and military band concerts, there will be numerous exhibits and aviation demonstrations throughout the week showcasing the latest technology of the maritime services and the skilled expertise of our dedicated service members.’


Lascivious drooling over anything in a lanyard and bellbottoms on the unruly streets is not something historian Jan Jan Rüger could have guessed would follow on from the Victorian ‘naval theatre’ of our patriotic, grey-hull-focused Fleet Reviews, which he explored in The Great Naval Game: Britain and Germany in the Age of Empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007.
Unofficially, NYC’s Fleet Week it means a time when anyone who fancies male sailors (or rather, fancies the stereotypical idea of them as butch and bendable icons) dolls themselves up, takes plenty of money to buy drinks for their quarry, and cruises ports in search of the beefcake of their dreams.
I'm not sure if women will be using the events for netting women sailors. That’s a hidden story, as yet.
Fetishised gay male re-readings of events meant in 2012, for example,that the chance to view ‘The gayest military movie of all time’, Top Gun, on the warship USS Intrepid was full of amorous promise for uniform fetishists and "Masc bi frat bros".
In 2013 traders, including pink proprietors,lost an estimated $20 when the Week was cancelled as too costly.

Around 1,500 sailors will arrive in NYC, be feted like movie stars, and become the besieged objects of landlubbers’ desire. No doubt some will take advantage and some will be taken advantage of. And yes, civilians will certainly learn more about the Navy, but not in the way the spin-doctors want.
Nabbing a Fleet-Week-sailor makes the game clear in its online guide for women:
‘This is not the man you're going to marry, just a fun little fling. He's a knight that comes in his own shining armor. In fact, that all-white get-up is so shining, it's often blinding, making one sailor hard to tell from the next. And that's fine. You don't need to be picky. Just about any sailor will do. Here's how you can take advantage of one of the 3,000 seamen who arrived in town today.’ (
More sensibly it warns that although sailors will be doing ‘outreachy’ public relations stunts, off duty they will be wanting booze (US ships are strictly dry), privacy, and ‘a week of fun and freedom.’ Use your condoms.
‘Be a Lady: We hate to break it to the gay guys, but most of the sailors are going to be of the heterosexual persuasion.… the majority will be hunting for lady tail (and for those that are heteroflexible, they've been beating off with bunk mates for months, so it's time to flex their hetero muscles).’

Personally, I'm all for people being valued for all the complex human beings they really are, not objectified. Any other way of connecting seems reductive and bound to lead to misery if people are seeking honest relationships. But that’s a feminist woman’s perspective, whereas this publicity is all about carnivalesque, one-off friskiness.
It’s lite. And as Tina Turner sang ‘What’s love got to do with it?’
Image from Jordan Sternberg’s 2012 A Fleet Week Fun Guide for the Gay Sailor,

Fleet Week in the US is particularly important and festive since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law was repealed in 2012. LGBTI rights in the military are now better recognised.
Much queer publicity plays on this: ‘Do Ask, Do Tell’ consumers are urged; ‘Do ask, do tell’ cocktails are on offer. In turn sailors are exhorted ‘Come out for Fleet Week’.
If only it were that simple. If only expressions of sexualities, especially marginalised ones, didn’t have complex repercussions for seafarers.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Seasickness haha - and gender

'Hilarious' Seasickness: comic postcard representations of mobility's crucial cost, 1910-1960.

This is the title of a seminar I'll be giving for Liverpool University's Centre for Port and Maritime History.

It's on Wednesday 15 April 2015 at 5-6.30pm in Committee Room 5 in the Management School, Chatham Street, L69 7ZH. Contact +44 (0)151 795 3000 Email:

Seasickness is, or was, the elephant in the room for voyagers in the days before stable ships and effective motion sickness cures.
Seaside humour-type postcards were one of the few areas where the subject was raised.
A genre of popular art as well as text message-like communication, these cards were in a sense anti-cruise brochures. They aired a silenced aspect of the new phenomenon, recreational sea travel, i.e. sometimes unspeakable physical unease.
In a highly illustrated presentation I explore these postcards as a commercially-mediated way of discussing matter out of place: illness where there was supposed to be consumer pleasure at mobility.

Although I won't be focusing on gender, I started investigating this subject because it was gendered.
And I will be briefly discussing gendered representation in the postcards.

For example we see:
~ men, not women, as the main sufferers
~ female partners as breezy and blithe. They usually don't grasp that he thinks he's dying
~ no women seafarers, just non-seasick male stewards and officers
~ shared queasiness creates female-male liaisons. In other words, it's an odd chat-up opportunity.

Most cards (I collected them via eBay)weren't postally used. And almost none refer to mal-de-mer.
The one that does so most explicitly is from a woman on land., in August 1920, wishing her friend wasn't suffering like the poor chap featured in the postcard.