Blanche Douglass Leathers

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Captain Blanch Douglass Leathers, drawing appearing in the Indianapolis News on 23 February 1895.
Captain Blanch Douglass Leathers, drawing appearing in the Indianapolis News on 23 February 1895.

Blanche Douglass Leathers (1860 - January 26, 1940) was the first woman master and a steamboat captain on the Mississippi River in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her nicknames include "little captain,"[1] the "angel of the Mississippi" and the "lady skipper."[2]


Leathers was born in Tensas Parish, Louisiana and her father was a cotton planter.[3][4] She married Captain Bowling S. Leathers in 1880 and had her honeymoon on his boat.[5] Her husband taught her how to pilot and navigate the river.[6][7]

Leathers earned her master's license in 1894.[8] Then Leathers began her historic voyage as the first woman steamboat captain on the Mississippi.[1] As the Natchez steamed away from New Orleans, tugs, ferries and freighters whistled in salute. Newspaper reporters interviewed her and she gave out autographs.[1] She would make regular trips from New Orleans to Vicksburg and was the only woman captain of a large Mississippi river packet.[2][9] Leathers said that she often managed the employees, performed boat inspections and then took over as captain when her husband needed.[6] In 1896, the Public Ledger wrote that Leathers had taken command of the Natchez.[10] She worked on the river for 18 years and then retired in New Orleans after the death of her husband.[5][11] In 1929, she came out of retirement and started piloting a steamboat, the Tennessee Belle.[5] The last time she renewed her pilot's license was in 1935.[12]

Leathers died in New Orleans on January 26, 1940[13] of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 79. A children's book, Steamboat! The Story of Captain Blanche Leathers was published in 1999 by Judith Heide Gilliland and illustrated by Holly Meade.[14] In 2009, Leathers was inducted into the National Rivers Hall of Fame.[12]



  1. ^ a b c Nott 1927, p. 3.
  2. ^ a b "The Only Woman Skipper". The Pittsburgh Press. 19 July 1901. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  3. ^ "On the last trip of the steamer". The Richland Beacon-News. 22 December 1894. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  4. ^ Nott 1927, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b c "Romantic Mississippi's Only Woman Pilot Returns to River After Many Years". The Daily Independent. 8 October 1929. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  6. ^ a b Nobles, Katharine (23 February 1895). "Capt. Blanche Leathers". The Indianapolis News. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  7. ^ Holloway, Jane Hunter (23 August 1930). "Woman Captain of River Boat Lives a Quiet Life Now". The Oshkosh Northwestern. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  8. ^ "A Full-Fledged Woman Captain". The Times-Picayune. 21 August 1894. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  9. ^ "Captain Blanche Leathers On Deck". The Times-Picayune. 29 November 1894. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  10. ^ "Flotsam - Jetsam - Ligan!". The Public Ledger. 28 February 1896. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  11. ^ "Home Harder to Rule Than River Steamer, Says Woman Captain". The Dispatch. 30 August 1927. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  12. ^ a b "Captain Blanche Douglass Leathers". National Rivers Hall of Fame Inductees. Retrieved 2018-05-07. 
  13. ^ "Mrs. Blanche Douglass Leathers". Chicago Tribune. 27 January 1940. Retrieved 2018-05-07 – via 
  14. ^ Bloom, Susan P. (March 2000). "Steamboat!". Horn Book Magazine. 76 (2): 211–212 – via EBSCOhost. (Subscription required (help)). 


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