Women's History

Sepia image of six women, gathered at docks in front of ships.
Six women on the dock, 1922. Photo courtesy: New Bedford Whaling Museum

Women in New Bedford

With their whalemen husbands away for years at a time, women had to assume the responsibilities not only of heading households, but of running businesses and family farms. The progressive Quaker attitude towards gender equality encouraged the development of this female strength and capability. As one young bride wrote to her captain husband, “I do not know how now, but I think I shall learn, and I try very hard to do as I ought.”

In order to make ends meet, women were often forced to find new sources of income. Some women ran boardinghouses, often paying rent to a separate homeowner to do so. In the early part of the 20th century, the influx of immigrants to New Bedford led to a real need for housing. Abbie Gant, a 43-year-old African American widow housed the entire crew from a single whaleship in her boardinghouse at South Water Street.


Last updated: January 12, 2021

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