Let’s get one thing clear…
I’d consider myself a fairly superstitious person but there is one old piece of folklore I refuse to believe: that women are bad luck on boats. Once upon a time, hopefully, many, many years ago sailors said that women aboard the ship would upset the sea gods and cause treacherous sailing conditions. The truth of this superstition is that the men could not be trusted to stay focused around the women. So, ladies, it was the men that were the problem, not us. As we approach International Women’s Day next week, let’s not forget that!
Despite this notion that women were not allowed on board, there have been many female sailors through history. The following are a few of my favorites:
Countess Hélène de Pourtalès
Born Helen Barbey to a wealthy New York family, the future countess became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Helen spent time with relatives in Newport, RI witnessing the America’s Cup in person and gained a passion for sailing. After marrying Hermann Alexander, Count von Pourtalès of Switzerland, she joined the Swiss Olympic sailing team. The Countess took part in the Olympics of 1900 which marked the first time women were allowed to compete. Their Swiss boat, Lérina, won a gold medal in the first race and a silver in the second.
Loretta Perfectus Walsh
Loretta Perfectus Walsh is the first woman in the history of our military to join the US Navy as an active duty officer and serve in a non-nurse capacity. At the start of 1917, in the midst of World War I, Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all US ships and worked to ally with Mexico for warfare against the United States. This led to the calling of all US merchant ships in warzones to prepare for battle, and more bodies were necessary to defend the ships. On March 19th, 1917, Loretta Perfectus Walsh led the charge of 13,000 women to serve their country on the high seas and was the first female to enlist in the US Navy.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read
I’ll preface this bit by saying I do not condone violence by anyone. Though, given the time and circumstance, I am impressed that these two women not only made their way onto a ship, but commanded it, even if they were....well....notorious pirates.
Anne Bonny was an Irish woman that immigrated to Charleston, SC in the early 18th century. She was an independent young woman with an unwieldy temper and an appetite for chaos. Without familial consent, she married a poor sailor named John Bonny whom she journeyed to the Bahamas with. Here, she grew bored of John and sailed away with a pirate named, John “Calico Jack” Rackham. Together they pillaged ships along the coast of Jamaica. During one ransack aboard the sloop William, Anne and Calico Jack took a number of prisoners, one of whom was, Mary Read, disguised in men’s clothing. Anne Bonny took Read under her wing and the two became an infamous pair.
The sloop Williams was captured by Captain Jonathan Barnet in 1720. The crew was imprisoned and sentenced to death. Bonny and Read were spared from execution when it was revealed that they were both pregnant. Mary Read died while still in prison. Perhaps, Anne Bonny was sobered by the experience as she returned to Charleston to live a normal life.
Happy International Women’s Day
In honor of the approaching 45th International Women’s Day, let's celebrate all of the women that have been the first and paved the way for equality between genders. As a woman business owner in 2020, I am so grateful for the community of other female entrepreneurs that support me. And thank you to all of you for your continued support!