Fun facts about Louisiana

A female steamboat captain in Louisiana

Alas, I’ve been busy with work and home remodeling (don’t remodel … just take my advice blindly on this; it will mean working with men of few words who will silently judge you while you laboriously debate monumental decisions such as grout color) so I haven’t had much time for blogging.

However, since my husband keeps telling me the remodeling project is somehow “my thing,” I thought I’d shamelessly share a recent post making the Facebook history group rounds.

In 1930 a New Orleans newspaper proclaimed Blanche Leathers the “only woman licensed river pilot.” I think they meant she was the only woman licensed to be a river pilot, an elite group of people entrusted with guiding ships through Louisiana’s tricky waters.

Blanche wasn’t the only female river pilot of her day. But she was the only one who piloted a veritable floating mansion with plate glass windows, a piano and pretty drapery.

The story goes that Blanche was the daughter of a Tensas Parish cotton planter. In 1879, she was 16 and ready to party for Mardi Gras. She boarded a steamer for New Orleans, fell in love with the captain and married him. They honeymooned aboard the steamer, which also became their marital home.

Blanche’s husband, Captain Boling Leathers, would leave his wife in charge of the boat when he left to go ashore because he didn’t trust his crew. Eventually, she got a river pilot’s license. She would bring steamers down the sugar coast – as the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was called – with bales of cotton piled so high that you couldn’t see the lower decks.

Life on the river suited Blanche. Passengers included planters, politicians, gamblers and professional opera companies. The price of cabin passage included meals, which for lunch alone meant soup, chicken, roast, chops, vegetables by the dozen, salad, hot rolls, ice cream, cake and pies. It’s a wonder the passengers didn’t roll off the boat.

After 18 years on the river, Captain Blanche retired to New Orleans. A life of movies and shopping and motoring and bridge wasn’t for her. Soon she was back on the river for another stint as captain.

She piloted for a few more years and died in 1940 at age 79.

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