The Maine Fishermen’s Wives Association sponsors the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Fleet each June. Founded in 1977 the association reflects the partnership between men who work on fishing boats and their wives. The group sponsored a memorial in 1989 at the Portland Fish Exchange to commemorate those engaged in fishing who lost their lives at sea. The memorial sits in a small grove in front of the Marine Trade Center. Some women also fished and worked at sea in other ways.
Marie Graves, who grew up on Peaks Island, became a purser on Casco Bay Lines ferries during World War II, when the company was still operating steamboats. She was the first woman to obtain a U.S. Government-issued pilot’s license, while serving on the Sabino of Casco Bay Lines, and was a Navy Veteran of WWII, reaching the rank of Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class. Lisa Plummer, hired as a deckhand for Casco Bay Lines in 1996, earned her captain’s license and became the first female captain for the ferry service in 2000. The job involved handling lines at the docks, and loading and unloading freight on the boats that run between Portland and the islands of Casco Bay.
Captain Susan Clark, the first female Portland harbor pilot with Portland Pilots Inc., helped large ships navigate into Portland Harbor. When an oil tanker approached the harbor, Clark would board the ship and, using her local knowledge of the winds and currents, give commands to the ship’s captain and crew to get the vessel safely docked. Clark guided ships that were up to 1,000 feet long and 165 feet wide. She graduated at the top of her class from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and was class president and valedictorian. She was the first woman to sail as captain with Exxon Shipping Co. after earning her Unlimited Master’s license and was the first woman to be voted into the Portland Marine Society. Maine Maritime Academy, late in 2013, named its new 70-foot navigation training ship, the “Capt. Susan J. Clark,” honoring one of MMA’s alumni and navigation instructors.
The Portland Fish Pier and the Marine Trade Center are the headquarters for Portland’s Harbor Master. While no woman has yet occupied that position, a woman serves as assistant harbor master.
Historic photo courtesey of Library of Congress, LCDOG-det-4a-24302.