Monday, March 21, 2016

Women on the water

By Broch Bender

WSF's first all-female engine room crew, assembeled on the M/V Evergreen State.
When Julia Butler Hansen oversaw the establishment of our state ferry system in 1951, one of Washington State's early female legislators may have had a hard time envisioning the system as it stands today.

After all, back then women ferry workers were limited to cooking and cleaning aboard the ferries. The thought of women in the engine room? Way too strenuous. A female captain? Come on, now. A woman at the head of the entire system? Probably not.
Julia Butler Hansen, here with President
Kennedy in 1962, oversaw the establishment
of our state ferry system in 1951.
(Photo courtesy of David K. Hansen)

And yet, that's just where we are today. Women handle jobs throughout our ferry system, from loading cars to maintaining the engine, from steering the vessel to, yes, leading the entire Washington State Ferries system.

But it hasn't been an easy road.

In April, 1975 when Chief Mate Marsha Morse was hired as an ordinary seaman on the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route, state and federal laws had just been established requiring state agencies to increase employment opportunities for women, minorities and other protected classes. Morse, the third woman hired to work aboard a vessel, remembers she was not met with open arms.

"Customers weren't used to seeing a woman on the car deck and some of them would shout at me, saying I was taking a man's job," she said.

Female ferry workers stuck together, in 1980 establishing the "Women's Maritime Association," a support group for Seattle-based seafaring women that for two decades met to help ensure a productive working environment free from harassment.

L to R: Chief of Staff Elizabeth Kosa, Director of Terminal Engineering Nicole McIntosh,
Assistant Secretary Lynne Griffith, Port Captain Beth Stowell
By the mid-1990s, women began to become part of the fabric of the organization, seizing opportunities and rising up through the WSF ranks. Beth Stowell started as an on-call deck hand in 1996, picking up shifts on all routes across the system. Today, she is WSF's first female Port Captain, overseeing all fleet personnel, vessel maintenance and repairs on the Vashon, Point Defiance and Port Townsend routes.
Lynda Wheeler was our first female captain after
beginning her career as the first woman Ordinary Seaman.
Today WSF is home to 471female employees, including 15deck officers. Many of them, like Stowell, started as an ordinary seaman, the folks who clean the decks and helps load cars onto the ferry. And also like Stowell, many have worked their way up to leadership positions. The positions of Assistant Secretary of Transportation (Lynne Griffith), Chief of Staff (Elizabeth Kosa) and Director of Terminal Engineering (Nicole McIntosh) are all women.

In 2014, WSF saw its first-ever all-female engine room crew when Chief Engineer Maureen McGarrity and oilers Ashley Hansen and Elizabeth Adams assembled on the M/V Evergreen State.

While we've made strides in hiring women into positions across the ferry system, we have a long way to go to reach a level of gender, race, age and mobility diversity that mirrors Washington state. Want to help us bridge the gap? We've got some great career opportunities. Learn about open positions at WSF and come join us!

Marsha Morse (left), one of the first women to be hired to work aboard a vessel, with other Bremerton "B" watch crew waiting for the Bremerton ferry to arrive at Colman Dock in 1975. Note the old WSF logo on their hats.

1 comment:

bslocum said...

Great story of fourth years of progress - thanks.

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