Women’s Movements in the Maritimes up to WWI

It was considered to be a man’s prerogative, to venture forth and face nature, while women stayed at home, looking after the family and house. With the passage of time, changes in society slowly brought about a marked makeover from this home and hearth portrait of women and hence towards the middle of the nineteenth century, we see women taking a more active role in maritime affairs. Records show that some enterprising women set up their own shipping companies2, while others looked after the business in the absence of their husbands or fathers. (Journal for Maritime Research May 2006)A study of maritime history, which incorporates the cultural and social aspects, gives us a startling picture of women and their role in maritime societies. Earlier studies of maritime societies mentioned women as incidental to the events or depicted only those who were exceptional in some way or the other, but all this has changed and efforts are being made to pull women out of the woodwork. One of the most important studies which brought the lives of maritime women into the limelight is Lisa Norling’s brilliant study entitled “Captain Ahab Had A Wife”. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.)While the term maritime women refer to the female seamen, it is also identified for the wives of men who go out to sea. The role of a seaman’s wife is absolutely different from that of an ordinary housewife. A seaman’s wife has to cope with long absences and short, intense visits in which the daily routine of her life has to be remodeled around the expectations and needs of her husbands. These women are engaged in a constant trade-off of their independence, which becomes cyclical, and dependent upon the husband’s stay, which in turn is dictated by the vagaries of the sea. It is a general conception, that wives of seamen are more independent by nature, “no-nonsense women.”