SKIPPER. Hers is the last stem-wheeler left on the Ohio
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
“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