Old Ma’am River
BY KATE MOLINOFF
Captain Mary Greene has
been piloting a riverboat for 50 years. But she still prefers sequin dresses to
FOR Captain Mary Greene,
78, equal rights for women began more than 50 years ago, when she got her
captain’s license and shared watches with her husband. Today she is the only
woman on the Ohio who has both a pilot’s and a master’s license. Mrs. Greene is
also the owner of the Gordon Greene, survivor of the stern-wheel packet boats
which used to ply the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers by the thousands.
“I studied three years
for my pilot’s license, and another year for my master’s papers,” she relates.
“My husband wanted me to have them so I could spell him.
“What did people think
of it? Well, I knew I’d be talked about, so I asked the consent of both our
families first. The crew gave me no trouble, even when we bought another boat
and I was in command. But passengers used to climb up on the texas deck to
stare at me, so I took the night watch.” Farmers along the river evidently
liked “Old Ma’am River” because they used to go on her boat by preference.
Mrs. Greene has round
cheeks, round blue eyes, and a trim little body which she propels nightly around
the salon dance floor in a variety of sequin-strewn dresses.
“Slacks? Oh no. I’m only
a little over five feet, and too fat to wear them. And I never wear a captain’s
hat. It’s too mas-cu-leyne,” she drawls in a soft, high voice.
Captain Mary brought up
three sons on the boat. Of course, a nurse was shipped every trip so the
skipper could do her job. “She did the spankin’,”
Captain Mary smiles. Only one boy was born on the river. It happened when the
boat was tied up for 100 days by ice in Virginia.
Passengers Are a Problem
CAPTAIN GREENE’S duties
are light now, for her son Tom is in command, while she supervises the 160
passengers and a crew of 62. Sometimes this is a taxing job.
“One woman came on board
recently lugging an iron, pot-bellied stove she wanted as a conversation piece
for her apartment, and another couldn’t resist three dozen eggs we had to take
care of till she got off. But in the old days, passengers did some funny
things, too. One day an excited woman asked us to make an extra stop, which we
did. Her sister ran down to the landing to kiss her. I asked, ‘Is that all?’
‘That’s all,’ she said. I backed the boat off and went on.”
Captain Mary is the only
riverboater in her family, most of which seems to have hit on a landlubberly
profession: a sister, three brothers and six cousins all are dentists.
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