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Jo Stanley

Consultant in maritime history and creative lifestory

Women at sea and why they matter

Traditionally, ships are places where women shouldn't be, said some men. But why stop half the population from being mobile in this way? And how can women fulfil their potential by roving and becoming all the things they never even dared to dream of on land.

Exploring women's maritime pasts is what a few historians are doing, such as Margaret Creighton, Lisa Norling, Joan Druett and Suzanne Stark. I've been exploring in this way since the 1980s. Pirates and pursers, dancers and doctors, captains and cooks: I've written and talked about women in most seafaring occupations. (And I'm always impressed. Do I myself fancy seafaring? No, I get too sick!).

From Cabin 'Boys' to Captains

From cabin boys to captains

FacebookPlease post your seafaring stories and pictures on the From Cabin Boys to Captains Facebook page.

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Available at Amazon

'This is a breath-taking account of women serving at sea in a variety of capacities over several centuries. More than this, it is a story of bravery and silent resolve. It tells of women who have faced discomfort, discrimination, harassment, violence, and abuse to silently pursue their ambitions and dreams. It is about human strength of character and tremendous, largely unnoticed, courage. It is immensely powerful and uplifting and resonates strongly with the contemporary experiences of women seafarers. Like the best of historical work it adds to our understanding of the present as much as it does of the past.'
Professor Helen Sampson, Director, Seafarers International Research Centre
'Jo Stanley has written again a thought-provoking, challenging, critical but popular book on seagoing women. This inclusive, passionate, and well-researched story is a must-have for everyone interested in maritime history, gender, sex and power. You will be amazed after reading this book!'
Dr Sari Maenpää, Keeper, The Maritime Museum of Finland.
'A lively miscellany of female seafaring experiences that challenge entrenched gender patterns, and which will provoke scholarly interest for generations to come.'
Joan Druett, New Zealand, author of Petticoat Whalers and She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea.

'This enthralling book brings to light the lives and experiences of women at sea over several centuries. Jo Stanley brilliantly achieves a synthesis of individual stories and overall patterns, drawing on her research over the last 35 years. She shows how seafaring women explored not only the seas but the masculine world of the ship, and how in early days, mostly passing as boys or men, they might share in a range of daily tasks.

As ships got bigger and passengers, as well as the ship's company, needed to be serviced a wider and more specialized range of work opened up. More women became involved. Opportunities have come slowly, spasmodically and in piecemeal fashion, sometimes impeded by discrimination and harassment. But on board and in travelling seafaring women could develop new skills and confidence, and in recent decades have greater opportunities for responsibility and even a career.'
Dr Anna Davin, historian, UK.

'This book stands out for its vivid examples, global sweep, and exceptional range of topics. We meet cross-dressing pirates, but also the 'floatographers' and 'acrobatettes' aboard 20C cruise ships. Jo Stanley asks the hard questions about gender at sea and what emerges is an exuberant tale of challenges, heartbreaks, and triumphs.'
Professor Isaac Land, Indiana State University


Bold in Her Breeches: Women Pirates Across the Ages (Ed), Pandora 1995, Rivers Oram and Toyoshorin, Japan, 2003

Available at Amazon

BOLD in her BREECHES coverThis book succeeds admirably. It is by turns questioning, sceptical, imaginative, personal. The authors reconstruct, suppose, and above all, tell what can be known. It's written with wit and a light touch.

Women who wanted to work at sea faced stiff resistance in the 1970s in the Merchant Navy and in the 1990s in the Royal Navy. It's sometimes still a challenge. Picture courtesy of Sally Fodie.



Women and the Navy, National Museum of the Royal Navy/IB Tauris, 2017.

Go to page 1 on this website to see details of my next book on the Women and the Royal Navy will look like, in March 2017.

All-female camaraderie like this, plus fun, adventure, and the chance to do scientific jobs - and even fly - were among the attractions of life in naval services for women. I'm just on the last stages of writing up the fascinating and lively new information about naval nurses (QARNNS), women in naval families and employment, and the Women's Royal Naval Service. WRNS include those working in the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marines.

Women and the Royal Navy is being launched in conjunction with the centenary of the Women's Royal Naval Service in 2017 and the exhibition about naval women opening that month in Portsmouth.

See the exhibition at the NMRN from Spring.

Women in the Association of Wrens are helping me with their stories.

Where can you find out more?

  • On Blog
  • In my new books
  • In some of the articles I post/sign to on
  • At the many talks and conferences I do. So watch this diary and Blog for the latest news.