Women Once Disguised Themselves as Men to Get on Whaling Ships
It seems like a classic storyline right out of Hollywood. We've all seen movies where a young lady wants to do an activity that is for men only, she disguises and tricks people into thinking she is a young man or boy. Movies like Shakespeare in Love, Mulan or Just One of the Guys are three great examples of this type of film, but judging from some of the logbooks stored at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, there were young ladies back in the mid-1800s that did the same thing to sneak their way onto whaling ships.
The sea-hardened whaling captains in 1849 would never have allowed young Anne Johnson to join the crew of the Christopher Mitchell for a whaling voyage. Therefore, she had to use trickery to gain access to the ship that was doing some whaling down in Peru. She spent seven months hiding her true identity onboard the vessel. Then, on July 4, 1849, her secret was somehow discovered.
According to the logbook from the whaling ship, the captain had zero tolerance for a woman onboard. He turned the ship around immediately and ordered her off. Anne, who had been posing as "George," said that she was disappointed that she was discovered because she really enjoyed the chance to be out at sea with the other members of the crew.
The 1922 silent film Down to the Sea in Ships is a movie that depicts this type of storyline on a whaling ship. It wasn't filmed in Hollywood, however, it was filmed right here in New Bedford. You can check it out for yourself, and see what the Whaling City looked like just about 100 years ago:
What an interesting story to share during National Women's History Month. We thank the New Bedford Whaling Museum for alerting us to the story on its Facebook page and sharing the primary source of the logbook in this very informative video shot at the museum's library.