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Jo Stanley

Consultant in maritime history and creative lifestory

Wondering how to start exploring women's maritime history?

Here are 3 straightforward steps.

Women & The Sea

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: that's what a small number of veteran historians - such as Joan Druett, Margaret S Creighton, Lisa J Norling, the late Suzanne J Stark, and I began doing in the 1980s. Now the subject has almost taken off. 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!).

Gender and the sea

The subject 'women and the sea' is not only about women seafarers. It's also about gender, and the social systems ashore and st sea that made women's experiences different to those of men in maritime.

Gendered ideas especially impacted when women were more unusual in maritime life than they are today, for example in deck and engine work in the 1970s and on Royal Navy ships in the 1990s.

    Gender means that:
  • women seafarers' contribution in the male-dominated sphere has been marginalised, overlooked and misrepresented in records.
  • women's tendencies to be emotional literate, affiliative and communicative team-mates have not yet substantially influenced the culture in male-dominated shipboard communities
  • seagoing women have experienced far more sexual harassment than women on land. For links to two reports see
  • women have had the opportunity to go to sea as dependents of the seafaring male professionals aboard, and to see shipboard life through different lenses.
Race makes a difference, of course. My new work focuses on women of colour on ships, particularly those working as ayahs and amah on Voyages to and from South Asia. As travelling nannies they were the world's fists black and brown female business travellers.

Women and the Royal Navy

Women and the Royal Navy

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'Modern armed forces must represent the societies they defend if they wish to remain relevant in the modern world. Jo Stanley's expertly- contextualised book explains how the modern Royal Navy successfully integrated women into seagoing service, a key example of transformation that has benefited the Navy, the nation and all those involved.'
Andrew Lambert, Laughton Professor of Naval History, Kings College, London
'My grandmother Dame Katharine Furse [the Women'’s’ Royal Naval Service’s first director] convinced me that a woman could achieve whatever she set her mind to. Jo Stanley's wonderful book will inspire women worldwide.'
Hon. Elizabeth Furse, United States Congresswoman (retired)
'The author gives an authoritative and dynamic account of the vital role women in naval uniform have played in the shaping of today’s maritime forces – it is recognition long overdue. She asks the questions, skilfully provides the answers and tells it as it is. For anyone with an interest in things naval and women in particular this is an inspirational book which deserves a place in everyone's library. An excellent sequel to her previous book 'From Cabin 'Boys' to Captains''
Commodore Muriel Hocking RD* Royal Naval Reserve, the first and only woman in command of the RNR and the navy’s first ever female commodore.

'A meticulously researched tribute to women's immense contribution to naval service, mirroring their sisters' with the air force and army.
Mary Mackie, author of Wards in the Sky: The RAF's Remarkable Nursing Service.

'Jo Stanley's work is distinguished by the trouble she takes to uncover and explain the "how" and the "why" of women's full integration into the Royal Navy, rather than merely reporting the "what". Both as a military reference and a social commentary, the end result is important and compelling.’
Commodore Carolyn Stait, CBE, Naval Base Commander Clyde (Faslane), 2004-2007.

'Naval Nurses of the QARNNS are respected members of the longest serving women's service within the Royal Navy. This book shows the evolvement of the Service from the days of the lob-lolly boys who assisted the ship's surgeon, to the highly trained defence nurse specialists available to serve aboard ship or ashore, home or abroad.'
Nora Lewis, author of Nursing in the Navy, and former QARNNS Sister
'The Royal Navy loomed large in my family history. To my delight this book makes clear the enormous but hidden role played by women in the Senior Service life. It is based on sound research and engagingly written and deserves to find a wide audience.'
Dr Susan Rose, lecturer, maritime author, and granddaughter of Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Jellicoe

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


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.


My favourites

  • Ahab's WifeWomen's mar hist book: Sena Jeta Naslund, Ahab's Wife, Harper Collins, 2009.
  • Women's mar hist film: Now Voyager , 1942, Warner Bros.
    Now Voyager
  • Facebook group - Women in Maritime


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.

stewardesses who sailed to West Africa

Stewardess Julia Andrew sailing on Elder Dempster vessel c 1926. Photo courtesy of Grace Pritchard.

Talks I can offer to a wide range of audiences

  • Girls just wanna have fun: Young women and maritime life in 20C: Girls' Nautical Training Corps and Sea Cadets
  • Mx Jack Tar: gender, sex, power and seafaring women, from Cutty Sark to Scarlet Lady
  • Cross-dressed women cabin-boys and pirate-esses of the 18C and 19C
  • Wrens, QARNNS and VADs in the Royal Navy history

Contact me to discuss and sliding-scale fees:

Reading on


  • Stanley J. 2021. 'Rhododendrons and Raids: Dover naval women's daily life and emotions in 1918', in Maritime Kent, eds S Bligh, E Edwards and S Sweetinburgh, Boydell & Brewer, 2021.
  • Stanley J. 2020. 'Frocks versus guns: UK seafaring women and queered people sailing the South Atlantic in the 1982 Malvinas/ Falklands conflict', eds Birgit Braasch and Claudia Andrea Müller, Off Shore: Perspectives on Transatlantic Pleasure Travel since the 19th Century, Lit-Verlag, Hamburg, pp61-98.
  • Stanley J. 2020. 'Piracy' and 'Adventurers', Women: Our History, ed Lucy Worsley, Dorling Kindersley, London and New York, 2020.
  • Stanley J. 2019. 'Eily Keary, first woman marine engineer', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, London.
  • Stanley J. 2018. 'Questing for Cuba Cornwallis', in Trafalgar Chronicle, Autumn.
  • Stanley, J. 2012 Stanley J. 2012. 'On Buffer-kissers, Bus-station Skanks and Mile-High Clubs: sexualities and transport, in (eds) Peter Norton, Gijs Mom, Liz Millward, Mathieu Flonneau & Thomás Errázuriiz, Mobility in History, The Yearbook of International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility, Berghahn, 2012, pp 29-49.
  • Stanley J. 2019. 'Frocks versus guns: UK seafaring women and queered people sailing the South Atlantic in the 1982 Malvinas/ Falklands conflict', in Birgit Braasch and Claudia Andrea Müller, eds, Off Shore: Perspectives on Transatlantic Pleasure Travel since the 19th Century, Lit-Verlag, Hamburg.
  • Stanley J, 2018. 'Questing for Couba Cornwallis, Nelson's Afro-Caribbean nurse', Trafalgar Chronicle, no 28, London, pp24-33.
  • Stanley J. 2012. 'On buffer-kissers, bus-station skanks and mile-high clubs: sexualities and transport', in Peter Norton et al, eds, Mobility in History, The Yearbook of International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility, Berghahn, New York, 29-49,
  • Stanley J. 2009 'Caring for the poor souls: inter-war seafaring women and their pity for passengers,' chapter in Gayle Letherby and Gillian Reynolds, eds, Gendered Journeys, Mobile Emotions, Ashgate, London, 121-132.
  • Stanley J. 2007. 'The Women among the boys' in Robert J Antony, ed, Pirates in the Age of Sail, Norton Casebook in History, WW Norton, New York, 153-166.
  • Stanley J. 2007. Entry on women, Oxford Encyclopaedia of Maritime History, Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Stanley J. 2004. 'Go east, young woman (but not often): inter-war British India Line stewardesses', in Richard Harding et al, eds, British Ships in China Seas: 1700 to the Present Day, National Museums, Liverpool, 99-112.
  • Stanley J. 2023, Women/Sea/MisogynSea, in Gender at Sea, ed by Djoeke van Netten , Verloren , Hilversum, pp202-217


Journal Articles (selected)

  • Stanley J. 2020. 'Square Rig and Moonlight,' Marine Quarterly, Winter 2020, pp 96-101.
  • Stanley J. 2020. 'A warm stroke from shore to ship: naval homages to Hong Kong's female side-parties,' Port Towns and Urban Cultures ,, April
  • Stanley J. 2018. 'Homeward Bound', (re SS Windrush women) in Marine Quarterly, Autumn, pp86-90
  • Stanley J. 2017. 'Freeing a man for the fleet/ freeing a woman into engineering life', The Woman Engineer, Winter, vol 19. No 17, p11.
  • Stanley J. 2017. '(Actively) moving missing "minorities" from the margins to the main in maritime museums', Topmasts, December, 37-41.
  • Stanley J. 2011. 'Ayahs who travelled: Indian nannies voyaging to Britain in the nineteenth century', Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter, January, 5-8.
  • Stanley J. 2010. 'We were skivvies / We had a ball: Shame and interwar stewardesses, Oral History, 38 (2) (Emotions issue), Autumn, 64-74,
  • Stanley J. 2009. 'The Trouble with Women Pirates', Her Storia, 1, Feb 2009, 5-13.
  • Stanley J. 2008. 'Co-venturing consumers "travel back": ships' stewardesses and their female passengers, 1919-1955, Mobilities, 3(3) November), 437-454.
  • Stanley J. 2006. 'How did this come to be in stewardess Scheherazade's sea-chest of 'memories'? Exploring the Exceptionalised and Auratic Sea through Inter-War Seawomen's Oral Testimonies', Diegesis: Journal of the Association for Research in Popular Fictions, no. 9, Spring 2006, Narratives of the Sea issue, 24-31,


Book, conferences and exhibitions reviewed (selected)

  • Stanley J. 2020. 'WOW - Women on the Waves (exhibition review) International Journal of Maritime History, Vol 32, no 3, pp743-761.
  • Stanley J. 2020. Review of Irini Papanicolopulu et al, 'Gender and the Law of the Sea,' International Journal of Maritime History, Vol 32, issue 2, pp522-4
  • Stanley J. 2020. Review of Carole Goldsmith, 'A Wife on the Ocean Wave,' International Journal of Maritime History, Vol 32, issue 4, pp 1026-1028.
  • Stanley J. 2016. 'Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge' by Margaret Willson, Scandinavian Studies, 8 (4),Winter, 470-4, DOI: 10.5406/scanstud.88.4.0470.
  • Stanley J. 2014. 'Sex &The Sea, Maritiem Museum Rotterdam', International Journal of Maritime History, June, 26 (2) 378-421,
  • Stanley J. 2014. 'Women, Travel and Identity: Journeys by rail and sea, 1870-1940' by Emma Robinson-Tomsett, Women's History Review, April, 132-134, DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2014.906836.
  • Stanley J. 2013. 'To be a Sailor's Wife'by Hannah Hagmark-Cooper, Women's History Magazine, 71, 40-41.
  • Stanley J. 2008. 'Gender, Emotion, Work and Travel: Women Transport Workers and Passengers, Past and Present', Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich, London, June 2007, History Workshop Journal , 65, 277-279,
  • Stanley J. 2008. 'Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine,' by Hugh Cunningham, , Women's History Magazine, 58, Spring/Summer, 38.
  • Stanley J. 2007. 'The Female Shipwright, Mary Lacy', by Margarette Lincoln, International Journal of Maritime History, Autumn 2009, 405-407,
  • Stanley J. 2007. 'In the Shadow of Freedom: Life on board the oil tanker,' by Mira Karjalainen, International Journal of Maritime History, 19 (2), 473-4,
  • Stanley J. 2006. 'Tourism and the history of traffic, transport and mobility', History Workshop Journal, 61, Spring, 298-9,
  • Stanley J. 2006. 'Beyond the Call of Duty: The Loss of British Commonwealth Mercantile and Service Women at Sea during the Second World War, by Brian Crabb, International Journal of Maritime History, 18 (2), 615-617,
  • Stanley J. 2005. 'The Titanic in Myth and Memory: Representations in Visual and Literary Culture', by Tim Bergfelder and Sarah Street, International Journal of Maritime History, 17 (1), June, 329-30,
  • Stanley J. 2005. 'Women of the Sea' by Edgar Rowe Snow, International Journal of Maritime History, December, 17 (2) 399-400,
  • Stanley J. 2005. 'Quite a Curiosity: The Sea Letters of Grace F. Ladd' by Louise Nichols, Journal for Maritime Research, January,
  • Stanley J. 2001. 'Gendering Transport', History Workshop, 51, Spring, 279-80,
  • Stanley J. 2001. 'Women at Sea: An Other Category', thematic review, Gender and History, 15 (1), Spring, 135-9.
  • Stanley J. 2001. 'Women at Sea: Travel Writing and the Margins of Caribbean Discourse', Lizbeth Paravisini-Gebert and Ivette Romero-Cesaero, International Journal of Maritime History, Winter, 325-27, doi/abs/10.1177/084387140101300174.
  • Stanley J. 1998. 'The Captain's a Woman: Tales of a Merchant Mariner' by Deborah Dempsey, International Journal of Maritime History, December 10 (2), 329-331,