It was widely understood, "Send a boy to sea and get back a man." Whaling work was one of the most strictly all male occupations. Cruising for, hunting and processing whales were done by men. However, the industry and the home communities depended upon the women and other family members to manage things on shore. Women who went to sea were either the wives of whaling captains or signed on disguised as men willing to do the difficult and dirty work of whaling.
At the height of Yankee whaling, more than half of the males on Martha’s Vineyard between the ages of 14 and 19 went to sea. For them, it was about becoming a man at sea surrounded only by other men. Boys and girls became separated just when they might start taking an interest in each other. Unmarried women had fewer young men courting them, fewer men with whom to socialize and to share their youth. Religious meetings often became the major social events for these young women, while their fathers, brothers and friends were sailing oceans half a world away.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the New Bedford Free Public Library