Betsy Pye describes the long tradition of strong female activists in New Bedford’s fishing community, and what it’s meant to her.
This story was produced by the Working Waterfront Festival for the NOAA Voices from the Fisheries oral history project.
“There were at that time, lots of meetings and rallies, and such in support of the groundfishing industry that I attended and I helped make posters, and walked you know, marched if you will from Pier 3 to Fairhaven where there was a Council meeting at one time or another. And just generally got involved. And my husband actually sent me a card, well, he didn’t send it through the mail, we don’t waste a lot of postage, he just left it, “thank you for trying to save the fishing industry”. He’s not an active participant himself but obviously he gives a lot of thought to what’s happening and right now it isn’t a pretty picture for the fishing industry. So as his partner in life, I do what I can but part of that was getting out in the front lines, I mean I just, well certainly not in the front lines but in support of the front lines I was doing what I could because I thought that’s what I should do. And that’s how I got started.
I have a feeling that even in the whaling era, wives of men who went to sea were, for all intents and purposes, feminists or modern women because they had to maintain the home and that meant the books. And they had to make due with what the husband left them with when they went away. And in many cases they ran businesses and did things outside the home that perhaps their contemporaries and peers didn’t because it was unseemly or women didn’t do it or they didn’t have to. But necessity is a mother of invention, and if you have to because there is no one at home to do it with you or for you, then you do it. And you simply just get out there and do it. Now I am, I believe I am a feminist, and I have no trouble whatsoever doing what has to be done. Or finding someone who can do it for me. And I think my husband is confident that in his absence that everything is gonna be just fine. He trusts me I think with his life. And I take care of things when he goes fishing because they need to be done, it’s not because it’s my job or his job, it’s just something that needs to be done. And that’s just part of what I think most women do whose husbands are at sea, or whose partners are at sea.”