because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mary Patten

Mary Patten was a twenty-year-old newly wed, so in love (and in-your-face), she followed her ship captain husband onto a clipper ship twice in 1855 and 1856. Fortunately, on the first voyage -- from Boston to San Francisco, China, London and back to New York -- Patten learned how to navigate a massive sailing vessel full of cargo. And a good thing it was, too.

When the ship's Mate on the second voyage was found to be sleeping on the job and relieved of his duties, Patten's husband tried to serve as both Captain and Mate until he became so ill he could no longer do either. The Mate  (of course) offered to take over the Captain's duties, but using her in-your-face woman's logic, Patten replied that if he couldn't be trusted to do a good job as Mate, he certainly shouldn't be trusted with anything higher than that.

Angered, the Mate tried to foment a mutiny against Patten, but she gathered the Neptune Car's crew together and convinced them that she could navigate, reckon and plot the course for the remainder of the voyage (more than two months through some of the most dangerous waters in the world rounding Cape Horn). Not only did she successfully complete the voyage with all crew and cargo safely in tact, but she made delivery at the San Francisco port in less time than three of the four other ships that left Boston together. And she was nursing her husband during the entire ordeal.

How did she do it? She later said that she didn't remove her clothing for fifty nights. Sometimes in-your-face women step up, do what needs to be done, and slip quietly back into the shadows of history -- all without making any kind of big deal about it.

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