Thursday, March 5, 2009

The passing of maritime pioneer

This week came news that Molly Kool had died on February 25 at her home in Bangor, Maine, a couple of days past her 93rd birthday. She had nothing to do with piracy, but she was a remarkable woman who will be remembered for one very important accomplishment: She was the first woman in North America to hold a Master's ticket.

Molly Kool was born in 1916 in Alma, a small village in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick. Growing up beside the Bay of Fundy in a seafaring family, she spent her younger years helping out on her father's vessel, a scow that transferred cargoes between larger ships and the shore. Wanting to become her father's first mate, Ms. Kool applied to the Merchant Marine School in Saint John, New Brunswick, but was refused admission. This was, after all, a time when women were not a rarity in the professional seafaring community, they were non-existent.

But Kool persevered and by the time she was 21, in 1937, managed to get her mate's ticket. Two years later she gained her Coastal Master's certification from the Merchant Marine Institute in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and took over from her father as captain of the scow, the Jean K.

Her career as a master wasn't long: In 1944 she met an American man, gave up seafaring to get married and move to Maine. (He eventually died, she remarried and then outlived a second husband.) Still, Molly Kool helped break down innumerable barriers such that women now can be found as masters, chief engineers, mates, bosuns and deckhands on vessels working around the globe. For this, she will be rightly remembered as a pioneer in the seafaring world.

From the few people I've met who knew Molly Kool, I understand she never thought that what she did was extraordinary. She was a mariner with a love of the seas that was superceded only by the love of a man. As the New York Times obituary relates, she kept it simple when she finally got her master's ticket back in 1939, wiring home a terse message: "You can call me captain from now on."

Postscript: Molly Kool was actually the second woman to receive a master's ticket. The first was a woman from the Soviet Union, but I am unable to find any details about her. If anyone has any information on this individual, please contact me.

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