Women at Sea: Hen Frigates

Eliza Brock was just one of many hundreds of New England whaling captains' wives in the Pacific by the middle of the 19th century. In 1817, Mary Russell of Nantucket, accompanied her husband and her twelve year old son, William, on the Hydra. She was one of the first American women to be a seafaring "whaling wife," hundreds of whom would follow her footsteps over the next sixty years.

Whaling ships with the master's wife on board were often referred to as "Hen Frigates." In the mid 1800s when whaling was at its peak, it was not uncommon for ships captains to take their wives along on voyages that lasted up to five years. Whaling Wives demonstrated that "Home is where the heart is" at a time when it was becoming increasingly clear that a woman did not have to stay in a house to make it a home.

next page >

image of woman_on_ship

Library of Congress William Henry Jackson