Historical Marker #1778 in Louisville remembers the final resting place of pioneering female steamboat captain Mary Millicent Miller, who received her license as a captain in 1884.
The nineteenth century world of steamboating was often a rough and tumble place. Steamboat passengers of this era frequently carried concealed weapons and brawled regularly. Boatmen were often a hearty, hard-edged lot of men. It took a stern and decisive captain to keep the whole operation working effectively. In Victorian America, steamboats were not deemed to be the ideal place for a woman. Proper society determined that women in this time period were supposed to be pious, domestic individuals, who avoided such unlady-like atmospheres.
Mary M. Miller, a Louisville native, officially became a part of this man's world in 1884. However, Miller had long before become accustomed to river and steamboat life. Born in 1846, Miller had grown up around the river world and steamboating. Her father, Andrew Garretson, was a steamboat engineer, and she and her husband, George, operated a steamboat named the "Saline" on the lower Mississippi and Red Rivers.
When the Millers' steamboat business came under fire from competitors who alleged that George was serving as both pilot and captain, an illegal offense, George explained that he served as pilot and Mary was the captain. The competitors still complained that Mary was not licensed as a captain, so, in 1884, she took the required tests, passed, and received her official license.
The Millers plied the waters of the lower Mississippi River as husband and wife for almost another decade before George retired to the Portland neighborhood of Louisville. Sadly, on a trip to New Orleans aboard their sailboat the "Swan," Mary became sick. She died on October 30, 1894, and was buried in the Portland Cemetery.