Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic Word, 1700-1920.

A fine collection of essays by some well-known scholars on relations of women to sailors, primarily but not exclusively in the American industry. The work focuses on the role of women in shipping, far beyond their role as figureheads of the “wooden” title. Much of their work was in pants roles, transvestites wearing men’s clothing to assure their work. There is little I found about their reading as pirates, cabin boys, cooks, etc., but most of the essays are fascinating on the gender issues.

p. 128: Margaret Creighton. “Davy Jones Locker Room”: The dissociation of forecastle sailors from women—actual and symbolic—raises the question of whether seamen simultaneously took sexual and romantic partners among their shipmates. If sailors found “family” aboard ship and claimed their self-sufficiency from shore in that regard, why might they not also find lovers or sweethearts? While it may be assumed that some did, evidence concerning sexual contact between men is frustratingly paltry. Most evidence in the literature reviewed here arises from sodomy “crimes” committed on an unwilling partner, which tells us little about mutual involvement. Moreover, some of these alleged acts involved other crimes, such as threats of poisoning and armed violence, making it difficult to interpret the sexual element. We will probably never know the extent of same-sex relationships at sea, but further research may help us understand how they fit into shipboard culture.

p. 134, Creighton again: Owners and shipmasters were instrumental architects of the after cabin, but women were also responsible for its domestic dimensions. Evangelical reform was one of the few public activities open to middle-class women in the1800s, and sailors and their ships were a favorite target of women reformers and their minister compatriots. Such national agencies as the American Seamen’s Friend Society, founded in 1825, or—more specific to whaling—the New

Bedford Port Society, established in 1830, sponsored sailor “homes” in port. In these domiciles, wandering men could reacquaint themselves with domestic virtues such as neatness, temperance, and providence, and learn to save their money “to comfort the heart of some loved mother." These societies also tried to work through the shipmaster to try to reform sailors. They sent him aboard with testaments, religious tracts, and enlightening literature such as the Sailor’s Magazine. In their newsletters and at their meetings, they congratulated what they claimed were the growing number of masters who shared their concern.