By Jerry Schill
April 9, 2020
I recently read an excellent article about women who commercially fish in the Baltimore Magazine, titled “Waterwomen”.
It’s a story about Maryland women who crab, oyster and clam in Maryland. It’s a rather long article with some tremendous photography. Most of the photographs made me smile, but one in particular gave me a happy tear or two. The picture is of Dickie and Lois, married at the age of 18 close to 60 years ago. And they’re still fishing. Together!
The article featured the role of women who commercially fish, and refer to them in Maryland as Waterwomen. Interestingly, the women who do likewise in North Carolina insist on being called fisherman, or if plural, fishermen. That’s right, they want no distinction. They fish the same way and just as good as the men, so why refer to them differently? Frequently you will see them or their male counterparts referred to as “fishers”. Neither the men nor the women like it but in the zeal of being politically correct, some just can’t resist the fisher thing.
A couple of things came to mind as I was reading the article. It isn’t a new thing for women to be involved in traditional men’s work. My maternal Grandpa, John Guth, was born in 1895 in Fryburg, Pennsylvania and farmed for a living. His Dad, my Great-Grandfather, was a farmer. Grandpa had 5 children. All girls. Those 5 girls learned how to milk cows, slop the hogs, feed the chickens and gather the eggs and how to drive a team of Belgian draft horses. For entertainment I’m sure they enjoyed using a pitchfork to load the manure spreader too. Based on the conversations I had with my Mom and aunts, I don’t remember them waxing nostalgically about those days. Rather, it was usually used as a way to prove their point that women can do what men can do, if they have to do it.
Women who fish for a living, however, do it because they choose to do so, at least in most cases.
The other memory the article brought to the fore was NCFA’s auxiliaries. First was the Pamlico Auxiliary in Pamlico County, followed by the Hatteras-Ocracoke Auxiliary, made up of wives, mothers, daughters, granddaughters and others who organized to raise money and awareness to assist NCFA in its efforts to support fishing families. They were fearless when speaking to politicians or businesses that supported organizations working against their way of life. They had their own strong opinions for sure, but they also put the words on paper or orally at a public hearing. They often were the voices for the men folk who had the experience but were real timid in a crowd or in front of a microphone.
Sadly, those two groups no longer exist, a victim of a shrinking industry and an aging membership. Some still go to meetings to offer their opinions, aided by a granddaughter as a driver and a walker to motivate from place to place.
Some who participated may look back and be pleased those days are behind them. Personally, these are fond memories of a time when those who talked tough against commercial fishermen were brought to their knees by the words of the women, as one sports writer found out when he talked trash about commercial fishermen. He got a bit timid though when the ladies in Pamlico County got involved. He called them, “The Ladies of Hobucken”.
Indeed. Very tough ladies at that!
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