S. Millie Jenkins & Morning Star

A Woman on a Whaleship

Original content by: Laura Nadelberg

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About This Document

In 1903, S. Millie Jenkins wrote a letter to her cousin, Mary A. Day, while sailing aboard the whaling bark Morning Star.  As the lone woman on the ship, she had a unique experience for someone of this time.  She wrote extensively about whaling, everyday life on a ship from a woman’s perspective, and her thoughts on what occurred during the trip.  She included incredibly vivid details of chasing and harpooning the whales, the dangers of whaling, and the cutting-in process.

Reading by Amanda Schuff.

Historical Context

By the early 20th century, whales had been hunted to the point of endangerment.  However, there was still a high demand not only for whale oil, but also for baleen.  Ships were staying out longer, and advancements in whaling technology (such as the use of bomb lances and darting guns) were instrumental in catching more and more whales.  Additionally, it was unusual to have a woman on board a whaling vessel, as it was still considered a dangerous place to be.  A letter written about the whaling industry from a woman’s point of view gives insight to the life of these men who risked their lives for whaling.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. How do you think Millie's letter got to her cousin? How did Millie get letters?
  2. What can you learn about the whaling process from Millie's letter? Use specific examples.
  3. Millie mentioned that there was more money in a right whale that a sperm whale. Why do you think this was? Was there ever a time when a sperm whale was worth more money than a right whale? When and why?