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Old Ma'am River


Capt. Mary Becker Greene.jpg

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 slacks....

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. 

Unknown Publication Abt 1946