Death Of The Week: Molly Kool
Dearly Departed: Pioneering Canadian sailor and ship captain Myrtle “Molly” Kool, 1916-2009.
Cause Of Death: Pneumonia.
Greatest Achievement: She was the first woman in North America and the second in the world to be licensed as a sea captain.
Even now, images of those sailing the high seas depict the activity as a final bastion of masculinity: pirates, grizzled sea captains, longshoremen and maniacal Somalis. Back in the ’30s it was unheard of for a woman even to consider trying to be a sea captain, and Molly Kool was initially treated with disbelief and disgust when she applied to enter the Merchant Marine School in St John, New Brunswick at 21.
She proved them all wrong. Kool was the only woman ever to graduate from the school and she went on to the Merchant Marine Institute in Nova Scotia. She excelled in her classes and passed three long written tests and a gruelling harbour exam to become the first licensed captain in North America at the age of 23. Kool sent a telegram back to her family in Alma saying simply: “You can call me captain from now on.”
Her parents certainly couldn’t be more proud; brine was in their blood. Her father Paul was a Dutch sea captain and passed his scow, Jean K (named after Molly’s elder sister), over to her. Kool hauled cargo up and down the treacherous Bay Of Fundy, sometimes all the way down to Boston. She was renowned for her pragmatism and tenacity, and became a much respected figure in the area. That was, until the Jean K suffered a gas explosion in 1944 and was almost completely destroyed by fire.
Kool planned to head back onto the waves after it was repaired, but ended up marrying Ray Blaisdell and found happiness on land, in Maine, selling Singer sewing machines. She was widowed, remarried to John Carney and became Molly Kool Carney. She also outlived John and ended up losing both of her legs to vascular disease, ultimately retiring in Maine.
But Kool will never be forgotten as a humble pioneer. She caused the Canadian Shipping Act to be amended so it now refers to “him or her”. Her story was so exceptional at the time that she was once featured on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!. And Molly Kool’s home is now set to be turned into a museum.
She will be missed.
Note: I chose this remarkable DOTW before realising that it’s International Women’s Day on Saturday. In that spirit, we’ll be thinking of Molly Kool and all history’s pioneering women while rocking it at Golden Plains.
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