Philomene Daniels

Why did Philomene Daniels become a steamboat captain?

In May of 1887, an article came out that said, “Mrs. Daniels of the Water Lily the First Woman Pilot in the Country.” Philomene Daniels was a French-Canadian immigrant(a person who has moved to a different country). She moved to Vergennes, Vermont. In 1862, she married Captain Louis Daniels. In 1869 Daniels and her husband began to work on a steamboat(a type of boat that runs on a steam engine) called The Water Lily. Many other women across the US also worked on steamboats. But Philomene Daniels was the first woman to become a boat captain.

Lake Champlain is the largest lake in Vermont. At the time, there were not bridges connecting people in Vermont, New York, and Canada. Ferry(a type of boat that is used to take people from one side of a body of water to another) services on the lake helped people get from one side to another. Steamboats were also used as pleasure boats for tourism(a business related to recreation or vacationing). Many people visited Vermont and took steamboat rides on the lake as part of their trip.

In 1877 Louis Daniels saved up enough money to buy The Water Lily. The Daniels, along with their sons, began to run their ferry line as a family business. But, Philomene Daniels was not allowed to drive the steamboat. She did not have her pilot’s license(a special document that allows people to drive a certain vehicle). Daniels wanted to be an equal part of the crew. So, she decided to apply for her license. To get her license, Daniels had to take a test. She also had to go to a doctor’s visit to prove she could see well enough to pilot a boat. She passed both tests with ease. In 1887 Philomene Daniels became the first woman in the US to get her pilot’s license for boating. The Daniels were very successful. Passengers thought that Philomene Daniels was a charming captain. The Daniels bought three more steamboats to make their own fleet(a group of different boats).

From 1877 to 1916, the Daniels family ran a steamboat line on Lake Champlain and Otter Creek. Captain Louis died in 1903. Philomene Daniels continued to run the family business. That same year, Daniels’ daughter-in-law Helen got her pilot’s license. At the time, they were the only women in the US to have their pilot licenses. In the 1920s, the steamboat lines began to close. Highways and bridges made it easier to drive between New York and Vermont. Philomene Daniels proved that women could also be successful steamboat captains. For over twenty years, she ran a successful family steamboat business.

Thinking About History

Historians ask questions to think deeply about history.

Philomene Daniels was the first woman in the US to gain her boating pilot’s license. But there were a lot of other women who also worked on Lake Champlain steamboats. Why was the license an important extra step for Daniels to take?

Philomene Daniels did not set out to change history. Why is it important to tell the stories of ordinary people who change history?

Copy and paste this citation to show where you did your research.

Vermont Historical Society. "Philomene Daniels." Vermont History Explorer. Accessed July 23, 2024.

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