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women in maritime

Rewriting women into maritime history

Leading maritime organisations in call to change perceptions on the historical role of women in shipping and showcase female involvement in the industry over the centuries.

A group of leading organisations within the maritime industry are collaborating on a project to highlight the activities undertaken by women in shipping over the past few centuries.

The ‘Rewriting women into maritime history’ project will collate the material that is spread across archives beginning within those in the City of London, and then expanding to the UK & Ireland, and internationally so that accounts of women in the shipping industry can be identified and placed in the public domain for the first time.


Elspeth Parkes worked for the Chairman and Chief Executive of Lloyd's Register. She became the Society's first Public Relations Officer and initiated Lloyd's Register's PR activities. Elspeth was later promoted to Assistant Secretary Special Duties and undertook many wide-ranging projects as well as forging links and building relations with members of both European and British parliaments on Lloyd's Register's behalf.


Led by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre (LRF HEC), the collaboration currently involves Lloyd's List, International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Nautical Institute, the Women in Shipping and Trade Association (WISTA UK), Nautilus International and Preston Turnbull LLP. It is also being supported by The International Congress of Maritime Museums (ICMM), The National Maritime Museum, the University of Exeter and The British Commission for Maritime History (BCMH). Other interested parties are invited to join the initiative, which will run over several years.

The extensive research and interpretation project will provide plenty of opportunities for organisations to be involved in outreach activities to engage a global audience. A key theme of the project is diversity, equality and inclusion. Through ensuring that forgotten voices are heard, stories generated by the project can highlight the many opportunities presented by a maritime career.

Louise Sanger, the Head of Research, Interpretation and Engagement at LRF HEC who is leading the research project said: “Women in maritime history is an area of growing research but there is still work to be done. Apart from a few notable exceptions, women have largely been excluded from the maritime history narrative. We hope that this new research project will help to contribute to the growing discourse of women’s history and help uncover forgotten stories. Importantly, through raising awareness the initiative will help to encourage discussion and action on inequalities that still exist in the industry today.”

Philippa Charlton, Chief Marketing Officer at Lloyd’s Register said: “Women have always been involved in the maritime industry but there is limited publicly available evidence of their engagement in shipping from the 1800s and even earlier, until the present day. This has created a misperception that women are ‘new’ to shipping, or that their past contributions have not been significant or meaningful. We hope to help rectify that with Rewriting women into maritime history and we hope other organisations will join us.” 

Natalie Shaw MBE, ICS Director Employment Affairs, added: “At ICS we are delighted to be supporting this important project. Women have long been a part of our industry and it is time that this is recognised. We are all currently on a journey, and rightfully so, to ensure that our sector is more diverse, equitable and inclusive. As we mark our centenary here at ICS our focus is on the future but we should not forget the past and the important role that women played in history. ICS calls on the industry to support this project and to help rewrite women into maritime history.”

Dr Helen Doe, from The University of Exeter, Vice Chair for the British Commission for Maritime History and author of Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century, added:  ‘Women have always played an important part in the maritime sphere both by running maritime business, working in maritime industries and through financial support, but finding them is the hard part. This project to identify sources will celebrate these women and highlight their contribution.’

Monica Kohli, President of WISTA UK also added: “WISTA U.K. are delighted to  partner on this vital research on the role of women in shipping historically.   To develop in the future - we need to know our past, and celebrate the achievements of the ladies who have been present, made a difference but not yet been recognised or acknowledged.” 

More information about this initiative can be found here.

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