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Introduction
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Myths and Mermaids
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Life in Port
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Going to Sea
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Lighthouse Keepers
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Changing Roles for Women
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Women in the Military
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Women in Wartime Production
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Early Yachting and Racing
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Women and the Sea in the 20th Century
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Timeline
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Resources
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In This Chapter

Introduction

The First Female
River Pilots
Traveling as a
Profession

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The First Female River Pilots

The Wharf-Boat on the Ohio River at Cincinnati
1869 Jacob Gervis
From Harper's Weekly,
June 12, 1869
The Mariners' Museum Research Library and Archives

As the nineteenth century wore on, many women began making careers at sea, working as riverboat pilots and owning and operating boating and fishing businesses. The rewards of life on the water were many. In that era, America's rivers were alive with steamboats carrying freight and passengers to cities like Cincinnati and New Orleans. Women began earning pilots' and captains' licenses and taking the wheel.

Callie French
Several women became known as competent pilots along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers during the late nineteenth
Captain A. B. French
Courtesy of G. Harry Wright Showboat Collection,
Department of Special Collections and Archives,
Kent State University,
Kent, Ohio

century. Callie French and her husband, Captain A. B. French, operated several "floating theatres," and Callie was approved to pilot one of them, the New Sensation. In addition to serving as pilot, "Aunt Callie" cooked, acted, wrote jokes, and played the calliope to let people know the "showboat" was coming into town.

The Frenches' showboats were quite successful, and the pair formed a partnership with another couple, the McNairs. A. B. French died in 1902, and Callie continued to pilot and captain the boats with the McNairs. At her retirement in 1907, she boasted that she had never lost a boat.


This calliope is from the fifth and last boat named French's New Sensation. To keep her fingers from being burned by the steam, Callie French wore heavy gloves while playing.
Twenty-Four-Whistle Steam Calliope from French's New Sensation V
Manufactured by George Kratz
The Mariners' Museum
French is shown here wearing a pilot's wheel as a pin; the photograph may have been taken at the height of French's career as a showboat pilot.
Callie Leach French
circa 1890s
Courtesy of G. Harry Wright Showboat Collection,
Department of Special Collections and Archives,
Kent State University,
Kent, Ohio
It is not known what vessel this was taken from, but the woman on the far left bears a strong resemblance to "Aunt Callie."
French's New Sensation
Courtesy of G. Harry Wright Showboat Collection,
Department of Special Collections and Archives,
Kent State University,
Kent, Ohio
 
Interior View of a Floating Theatre or Showboat
The Mariners' Museum,
Edwin Levick Collection
 



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