Captain Mary Millicent Miller of Louisville was the first woman in the United States to receive a steamboat master’s license. Now Captain Miller is getting a riverboat named after her, and the boat is being christened today at 6 p.m. After an inaugural cruise following the christening, the Mary M. Miller will begin regular cruises on the Ohio on Friday.
The 30-minute ceremony is open to the public and will include remarks by Mayor Greg Fischer; Waterfront Development Corp. President David Karem; Rev. John B. Fritschner and Rev. David Guilfoyle of the Seamen’s Church Institute; and Fran Thornton, the boat’s godmother, who will perform the actual christening.
The boat formerly was known as the Georgia Queen and it arrived in Louisville in April after a 21-day journey from Savannah, Ga. Belle of Louisville Captain and CEO John Boyle was there for around 90 percent of the trip, he tells Insider.
The boat had been accustomed to doing two-hour cruises for years, he said, and when they took the boat full-throttle, seven days a week for three weeks, “something was bound to break.” So the crew had to stop periodically to pick up parts.
“But we were never in any danger,” he added.
Once the Mary M. Miller arrived in Louisville, she received a makeover from the Belle of Louisville crew. The 32-year-old boat can carry 565 passengers and will join the Belle in offering dinner cruises and special events. The boat will operate year-round.
Miller was born in Louisville in 1846. She was the daughter of a steamboat engineer and married boat builder and operator George Miller. Together she and her husband operated the Saline, even though she was not legally licensed because she was a woman.
When they were found out by the Steamboat Inspection Service in New Orleans, the SIS had no idea what to do about the problem and turned it into an issue of national debate.
In February 1884, the secretary of the treasury ruled that if Mary Miller was fit to perform the duties, she should be awarded her license regardless of gender. She was named a captain on Feb. 16, 1884. It was a powerful moment in the growing women’s movement.
The Millers worked on the Saline until they retired to their house in the Portland neighborhood. Mary Miller died in 1894 and is buried in the Portland Cemetery.
At first, Boyle wasn’t totally sold on the name for the new riverboat, but Waterfront Development Corp. President David Karem pointed out how few monuments to women exist in the city of Louisville. Now, Boyle couldn’t be prouder.
The Mary M. Miller will replace the Spirit of Jefferson, which has now retired. Boyle and the Waterfront Development Corp. are looking for a buyer. Boyle said the Spirit “needs a lot of TLC.”
Tickets are still available for the inaugural cruise, which will feature an open bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and music by Billy Goat Strut Revue. Every cruiser will receive a commemorative glass. Tickets are $75 each and the cruise boards at 6:30 p.m. and returns to port at 9 p.m.