About Mary M. Miller
Mary Millicent Miller made history in 1884 when she became the first woman in the United States to earn her steamboat master’s license!
Born into the steamboat life, Mary M. Miller grew up in Louisville, KY and married George Miller in 1865. Together they ran the packet boat, the Saline, on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Attempting to drive them out of business, George’s competitors reported George to the Steamboat Inspection Service in Washington, DC, claiming that George was illegally serving as both pilot and master (captain) on the Saline. At this, George stated that he was serving as Pilot while Mary was serving as Captain, intending to apply for her license; this was something no other woman in the United States had done in the nearly 100 years that steamboats had been operating in the United States.
This caused quite the controversy, but the U.S. Treasury Department intervened and declared that anyone able to pass the tests and prove their ability should be able to achieve licensing regardless of their gender. In November 1883, Mary M. Miller applied for her license, underwent rigorous testing, and passed with flying colors. On February 16, 1884, she took her oath and received her scroll just two days later, officially becoming the first America’s first female licensed steamboat captain.