Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1884
The duties which the seaman is called upon to perform are of such an arduous nature that woman has, by common consent, been debarred from undertaking them. Even the most advanced advocates of the rights of women do not urge her to enter into competition with the stronger sex in this field of usefulness. There are, however, a large number of women who habitually go to sea, and who feel as out of place on land as does the most hardened salt who ever spliced a rope. Sea-going women, as a rule, are either stewardesses or the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, or aunts of Captains or officers. The stewardess is the only one who may be strictly classed as a female member of a ship’s crew. She goes to sea in the way of business, and she fills the only position on board ship for which Nature has fitted her. She signs articles before sailing, like the officers and sailors, while the female relatives of Captains and officers are classed as passengers.
The life which women lead on board ship is usually a monotonous one. Their quarters are close and their social opportunities are quite limited. The Captain’s wife may tire of the society of the society her husband or of her children. If she wishes to go out to walk she is confined to the quarter-deck. A flirtation during her airing with one of the mates or the carpenter would be beneath her. If she happens to be good looking, the vessel will constantly swing a few points out of the course, for the man at the wheel will keep his eyes on her as long as she continues her promenade. She may make an occasional excursion to the forward part of the ship, but even in that novelty she finds little to attract her. A passing vessel arouses her interest and a hurricane relieves to a certain extent the monotony of her existence, but these blessings do not come along every day. She has no one to gossip with but the stewardess, and they find few matters of recent date which are worth discussing at any great length. The Captain’s wife may be as gay as she chooses without causing any scandal; but, unfortunately, she has little to stimulate whatever desire for gaiety she may possess. She has some advantages, however, for she is able to keep an eye on her husband. How or where he spends his evenings is no mystery to her. A woman who is fond of society does not enjoy herself on shipboard; and consequently Captain’s wives who go to sea are, as a rule, staid matrons who care little for excitement, and are only comfortable with quiet surroundings. After having been at sea for a few years the Master’s wife regards herself as an old sailor. She picks up the technical terms, and acquires the art of preserving her equilibrium in rough weather. If her husband is a part owner of the ship she keeps an eye on the stores, and sees that neither cook nor the stewardess is guilty of the sin of wasting. If by any chance she has while on shore become religious she undertakes the conversion of some of the hardest sinners among the crew. She sometimes establishes a Sunday-school, and distributes tracts among the sailors. The latter take an interest in the institution as along as it continues to be a novelty.
Some skippers’ wives master the art of navigation. There are a number of instances on record where the wives of Captains who had died or been lost overboard have taken command and brought their vessels safely into port.
Captains’ daughters, unfortunately, are not always like their mothers. These blooming sea-maidens are apt to long for the delights of the land. Their buoyant spirits hardly find elbow-room within the narrow limits of the ship. The discussions of her worthy parents as to the most economical methods of deeding seamen do not interest the lively Captain’s daughter. None of the Ralph Rackstraws in her father’s crew finds favor in her sight. She looks forward to the time when she is to be claimed by some gallant landsman who knows how to walk straight. A naval officer of a gentlemanly pirate might answer, but the idea of a common shipmaster like her father is revolting to her. The care of her younger brothers and sisters, if she has any, is a duty which her parents assign to her. This she finds monotonous, and while attending to it she finds time to indulge in daydreams. When her father’s vessel is anchored is anchored in some out-of-the-way foreign port in company of other ships she induces her parents to visit their neighbors. The Captain’s daughters who are contented with their monotonous sea-life she looks down upon. When her father’s ship is loading in some large port she manages to find a great deal of enjoyment. But, although life at sea is very monotonous to the blooming and lively maiden, her presence on shipboard affords the ambitious young sailor much pleasure. He watches her romping around the decks, and in his secret heart he determines to win her. He remembers the forecastle legend of Capt. Ranzo, which has been handed down from generation to generation of seamen in a rough song, the chorus of which is, Ranzo, boys, Ranzo. According to this, Ranzo, when a mild and virtuous youth, shipped on a whaler when under the influence of gin, secretly administered to him by a bold, had boarding-house keeper. The mate of the whaler, in whose character the ferocity of the tropical tiger seems to have been united with the sourness of the polar bear, ordered Ranzo to perform the duties of an able seaman. Finding the youth unequal to the task, the cruel man ordered the removal of his upper garments, and tickled his back twenty-three times with a cat-o’-nine-tails. The Captain, who appears to have been a sort of a floating angel, was blessed with a beautiful daughter, who heard of Ranzo’s ill-treatment. She induced her father to investigate the matter. He found
the mate in the wrong. and promptly knocked him down with an iron belaying-pin. Ranzo was then invited to make the cabin his head-quarters, and he was instructed by the Captain in the mysteries of navigation. In the concluding verse of the song Ranzo married the daughter of the Captain, who then retired, leaving his son-in-law to carry on the old business at the old stand. Many an ambitious young seaman has striven to emulate the example of Capt. Ranzo, and some of them have succeeded.
Inter Ocean, July 6, 1884
This is the season of the year when the wives of vessel captains turn out in fall force and take possession of cabins. As a rule they are accompanied by their families. It was a pleasing sight yesterday, and one which contrasted very much with the usual appearance of the docks, to watch gaily dressed youngsters tripping over deck loads of lumber seeking the best amusement they could find. It was just as pleasant. too, to watch the proud fathers carrying their youngest and introducing them to their friends. The “captains’ wife day” is very brief, but when, it comes th is very pleasant.