Hannah Cook Boston, 1795 – 1857, First Female Steamship Stewardess

Born in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in 1795, Hannah Cook Boston married the twice-widowed Absalom Boston in 1827, and was instantly a mother to his three children (F. R. Karttunen, pers. comm.). Absalom Boston was, of course, the well-known black captain of the all-black-crewed whaleship Industry, as well as a successful businessman, abolitionist, and one of the founders of the African Meetinghouse and School. Hannah was an equal partner in her marriage. She became the mother of five children, helped with the creation and running of the African Meetinghouse, and supported her husband in his work of desegregating the island schools. When Absalom died in 1855, he left a sizable estate; however, in a short time, the estate dwindled to almost nothing because of the economic downturn after the Great Fire of 1846, the demise of whaling, and the Gold Rush, which lured so many away from the island.

The Island Home.
The Island Home, the ship on which Hannah Cook Boston served as stewardess. P14276. Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Faced with having to find a means to support herself, Hannah looked for work outside the home. Unlike other black island women, however, Hannah did not become a domestic servant. Instead, she went to sea – following in the footsteps of her own family and her husband – by becoming the stewardess on the steamship Island Home. She was not serving a family, but working for the Nantucket Steamboat Company – taking care of its female passengers in the Ladies Cabin (F. R. Karttunen, pers. comm.). Hannah passed away after only a short time serving on board the steamer, but her taking this position encouraged other island women to follow suit, for several others were later employed as stewardesses on Nantucket steamships.


Excerpted from The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island 
By Jascin Leonardo Finger
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References

Karttunen, Frances Ruley. Personal communication.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. 1994. Away off shore: Nantucket island and its people 1602 – 1890. Nantucket: Mill Hill Press.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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