Women Seafarers

Illustration of Ida Lewis who rescued sailors near Newport Harbor, Rhode Island, circa 1860s-1890s.

Ida Lewis rescued drowning sailors for almost 4 decades from the harbor near Lime Rock Light, Newport, R.I.

Women played a large role in the history of seafaring that often goes unnoticed.  They were pirates, sailors, naval officers, pioneering divers, scientists, wives, daughters, and lighthouse keepers.  The First, the Few, the Forgotten discusses the instrumental role women played during the First World War.  The story of how a ship full of female convicts became the founding mothers of Australia is recounted in The Floating Brothel.  On an island off the coast of South Korea, elderly women dive for octopi and sea urchins perserving a dying tradition in Moon Tides.  Many wives accompanied their captain husbands on the lengthy voyages of whaling ships.  Their journals, including that of Mary Chipman Lawrence, provided insight into their lives and the important roles they played at sea.  The United States has a rich history of female lighthouse keepers as shown in Mind the Light, Katie Bold in Her Breeches discusses the lives of female pirates and the various reasons they turned to piracy.

The books in this bibliography range across a variety of subjects, including general history, deep sea diving, lighthouses, navy, pirates, and fiction.  These include biographies, memoirs, journals, essay collections, and novels.  Several of these titles are available at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Library.


Cordingly, David. Women Sailors and Sailors’ Women: An Untold Maritime History. Random House, 2001.

Focuses on a variety of British and American women associated with maritime life in the 18th and 19th centuries, including pirates, whalers’ wives, lighthouse keepers, captain’s wives, female sailors, and prostitutes.

Cordingly, David. Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors Wives. Random House, 2002.

This book is similar to Women Sailors and Sailor’s Women. It discusses the women whose lives were shaped by maritime life.

Creighton, Margaret S. Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.

Collection of essays about women’s roles in maritime history from 1700 to 1925. Focuses on several topics including piracy, the whaling industry, and the lives of female sailors who disguised themselves as men.

Druett, Joan. Eleanor’s Odyssey: Journal of the Captain’s Wife of the East Indiamen Friendship, 1799-1801. Old Salt, 2014.

This book is similar in style to She Was a Sister Sailor. It presents the journal of a captain’s wife detailing her life at sea.

Druett, Joan. Lady Castaways. Old Salt, 2015.

Presents several stories about women surviving shipwrecks and other maritime disasters.

Druett, Joan. Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, 19th century Women at Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Hen Frigates focuses on the lives of the wives and daughters of merchant ship captains who went to sea. Based on a collection of letters and journals written by these women.

Druett, Joan. She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

This book presents a collection of stories about female historical figures that have influenced maritime history in some way. These stories included queens, pirates, and sailor’s wives, dating back to ancient times.

Hardwick, Mollie. Emma, Lady Hamilton. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970. (LAMM Library)

Biography of Emma, Lady Hamilton, who is known for being the mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson, a well known British naval admiral. She was also a well known artist’s model and socialite in the late 1700s.

Rees, Sia. The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts. New York, N.Y.: Hyperion, 2002.

This book explores the journey of an 18th century ship, the Lady Julian, which brought female convicts from London to Australia to serve as wives and prostitutes. The British government sent convicts to Australia in response to overpopulation and rising crime in London. Some of these women became the “founding mothers” of Australia. The book is based on historical accounts, including court documents and personal journals.

Russell, Jack. Nelson and the Hamiltons. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969. (LAMM Library)

About the relationship between Horatio Nelson and the Hamiltons. Lady Hamilton became Nelson’s mistress. Eventually Nelson and the Hamiltons lived together in England. See Emma, Lady Hamilton for more information.

Shaw, David W. Flying Cloud: The True Story of America’s Most Famous Clipper Ship and the Woman Who Guided Her. Harper Paperback, 2001.

This book is about Eleanor Creesy during her time as the Flying Cloud’s navigator, focusing specifically on the ship’s record breaking maiden voyage. It includes excerpts from letters and journals, as well as historical documents, such as official records.

Snow, Edward Rowe. Women of the Sea. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1962.

Collection of stories about different women associated with maritime history, including pirates, wives and daughters of sailors, and about women whose lives were shaped by the ocean in some way. This book is more anecdotal than researched based.

Stark, Suzanne. Female Tars: Women aboard Ship in the Age of Sail. London: Constable, 1996.

This book focuses on the women who lived and worked on British warships in the 18th and 19th centuries. It looks at the lives of wives, prostitutes, and women sailors who disguised themselves as men.

Deep Sea Diving

Clark, Eugenie. Lady with a Spear. New York: Harper Brothers, 1953. (LAMM Library)

Clark’s memoir detailing her work as a marine biologist and ichthyologist.

Gilliam, Bret. “Zale Perry: The First Lady of American Diving.” Historical Diver 15.52 (2007): 11-27. (LAMM Library)

Article with short introduction to Parry’s life, followed by an interview with her about her life as a pioneer of underwater diving as a sport.

Hass, Lotte. Girl on the Ocean Floor;. London: Harrap, 1972.

Autobiography focusing on Hass’ experience as an underwater photographer and diver.

Michael, Jung. “Lotte Hass: Diving’s International Leading Lady.” The Journal of Diving History 16.56 (2008): 10-17. (LAMM Library)

Article detailing Hass’ life, focusing on her experience as an underwater photographer and diver.

Maraini, Fosco. The Island of the Fisherwomen. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962.

An account of the lives of Japanese female divers who collected shells and pearls. Includes many photographs of these women at work.

Parry, Zale, and Albert Tillman. Scuba America: The Human History of the Sport of Diving. Olga, Wash.: Whalestooth Pub., 2001.

Co-written with the pioneer female diver, Zale Perry, this book provides a history of scuba diving including interesting facts, photos, and commentary the authors.

Sunoo, Brenda, and Youngsook Han. Moon Tides: Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea. Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2011.

This book is about elderly female divers on an island off the coast of Korea.


Clifford, Mary Louise, and J. Candace Clifford. Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. Williamsburg, Va.: Cypress Communications, 1993. (LAMM Library)

This book provides mini biographies of America’s female lighthouse keepers. Their stories are supplemented with photos and general information about lighthouses.

Mind the Light Kate
Clifford, Mary Louise, and J. Candace Clifford. Mind the Light, Katie: The History of Thirty-three Female Lighthouse Keepers. Alexandria, Va.: Cypress Communications, 2006. (LAMM library)

This book is similar to Women Who Kept the Lights. It focuses on several female lighthouse keepers across America, detailing their lives.

Skomal, Leonore. Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter: The Remarkable True Story of American Heroine Ida Lewis. Globe Pequot, 2010.

This biography focuses on Ida Lewis, the keeper of Lime Rock Light of Rhode Island. She became known for her rescues of sailors during her time at the lighthouse.

Small, Constance Scovill. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 1999.

Autobiography detailing Scovill’s time living at a lighthouse in Maine.


Bachner, Evan. Making WAVES: Navy Women of World War II. New York: Abrams, 2008. (LAMM Library)

Collection of photographs of the women who served in the Navy in World War II. These photos show the various work WAVES did for the Navy.

Borsten, Laura Rapaport, and Orin Borsten. Once a Wave: My Life in the Navy, 1942-1946. Studio City, Calif.: Amber Pub., 1995. (LAMM Library)

Autobiography about the author’s experiences in the Navy.

crossed currentsCollins, Winifred Quick. More than a Uniform: A Navy Woman in a Navy Man’s World. University of North Texas, 1997.

Autobiography detailing Collins’ experiences in the Navy starting with WWII.

Ebbert, Jean, Marie-Beth Hall, and Edward L. Beach. Crossed Currents: Navy Women in a Century of Change. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1999. (LAMM Library)

Presents the history of women serving in the American Navy.

Ebbert, Jean, and Marie Hall. The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute, 2002.

Explores the often forgotten role women played in the US Navy and Marine Corps during the first world war.

Gilbert, Helen. “Okay, Girls– Man Your Bunks!”: Tales from the Life of a WWII Navy WAVE. Toledo, Ohio: Pedestrian, 2006.

Autobiography detailing Gilbert’s life, including the time she served in WWII and its impact on her life.

Hancock, Joy Bright. Lady in the Navy; a Personal Reminiscence. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute, 2014.

Hancock’s memoir of her service in World Wars I and II. In addition to her own expereineces, she documents how the role of women changed in the Navy.

Kesselman, Amy Vita. Fleeting Opportunities: Women Shipyard Workers in Portland and Vancouver during World War II and Reconversion. Albany: State U of New York, 1990. (LAMM Library)

Chronicles the experiences of women workers in shipyards during World War II.

Shukert, Elfrieda Berthiaume, and Barbara Smith Scibetta. War Brides of World War II. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1988. (LAMM Library)

Explores the relationships between US soldiers and the women they met overseas.

SPAR song book. Washington D.C.: Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard. (LAMM Library)

Collection of songs for the US Coast Guard Women’s Reserves.

Improbable Warriors
Williams, Kathleen Broome. Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute, 2001. (LAMM Library)

Focuses on the contributions of female scientists to the US Navy in the second world war.

Wingo, Josette Dermody. Mother Was a Gunner’s Mate: World War II in the Waves. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute, 2000.

Autobiography chronicling Dermody’s time serving in the Navy during World War II.


Editors, Charles Rivers. History’s Famous Women Pirates: Grace O’Malley, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. Create Space Independent Platform, 2013.

Biography of three of the most famous female pirates.

Ronald, Susan. The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

This book is about Elizabeth I’s influence on British naval history and the pirates that she employed.

Sjoholm, Barbara. The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O’Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2004.

About the lives of various pirate women, primarily research based.

Bold in Her BreechesStanley, Jo. Bold in Her Breeches: Women Pirates across the Ages. London: Pandora, 1995. (LAMM Library)

Explores the lives of female pirates throughout history. Stanley presents historical context for many famous female pirates and details the reasons women turned to piracy.

Yolen, Jane, and Christine Joy Pratt. Sea Queens: Women Pirates around the World. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2008.

Children’s book about several female pirates dating from ancient times.


Brewster, Mary, and Joan Druett. She Was a Sister Sailor: The Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster, 1845-1851. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1970.

Reproduction of Mary Brewster’s diaries recounting her life on board a whaler, as the captain’s wife. Also includes essays to provide historical context. Focuses primarily on the voyages to the Sandwich Islands in 1845 and the Arctic in 1848.

Doherty, Laura. Annie Ricketson’s Journal: The Remarkable Voyage of the Only Woman aboard a Whaling Ship with Her Sea Captain Husband and Crew. 2010.

Reproduction of Ricketson’s journal detailing her life aboard a whaling ship.

Druett, Joan, and Ron Druett. Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820-1920. Auckland: Collins, 1991. (LAMM Library)

This is a collection of stories about captain’s wives sailing in whaling ships. Discusses the conditions in which they lived, their roles on the ship, and the relationships between these “whaling wives.” Apparently the whaling wives would have high tea on each other’s ships in the middle of the ocean.

Lawrence, Mary Chipman, and Stanton Garner. The Captain’s Best Mate: the Journal of Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler Addison, 1856-1860. Hanover: Published for Brown UP by UP of New England, 1986.

Similar in to Annie Ricketson’s Journal, this book is a reproduction of Lawrences journal detailing her time onboard a whaling ship.

Norling, Lisa. Captain Ahab Had a Wife: New England Women & the Whalefishery, 1720-1870. Chapel Hill, N.C: U of North Carolina, 2000.

Explores the lives of women and the roles they played in the whaling industry of the 18th and 19th centuries.


Druett, Joan. Judas Island. Old Salt, 2013.

Mystery adventure set on a ship in the 1840s. Centers around the adventures of a young actress as she joins a pirate crew in search of treasure. First of a trilogy.

Druett, Joan. A Love of Adventure. Old Salt, 2012.

Nautical mystery following a young woman who struggles to keep her family’s merchant ship legacy alive.

Lowell, Joan, and Kurt Wiese. The Cradle of the Deep. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1929. (LAMM Library)

Fictional autobiography detailing Lowell’s life on board the ship Minnie A Caine.

Meyer, L. A. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy. San Diego: Harcourt, 2002.

Children’s novel about the adventures young girl who disguises herself as a boy to serve on a ship.

She Built Ships
Naslund, Sena Jeter, and Christopher Wormell. Ahab’s Wife, Or, The Stargazer: A Novel. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999. (LAMM Library)

This novel explores the life of Una, the wife of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab.

Rees, Celia. Pirates! Bloomsbury, 2005.

Young adult novel about the adventures of two young women. First in a series.

Slone, Jeane. She Built Ships during World War II. Healdsburg, Calif.: Jeane Slone, Walter J. Wiley Book, 2012. (LAMM Library)

Follows the lives of three American women during World War II.