The best books about women at sea through history (including some pirates)

The Books I Picked & Why

Bold in Her Breeches: Woman Pirates Across the Ages

By Jo Stanley

Book cover of Bold in Her Breeches: Woman Pirates Across the Ages

Why this book?

When I was a little girl I wanted to grow up to be a pirate, and women pirates in particular inspired me. They still do. This collection expands on some of the well-known pirates like Ann Bonny, Mary Read, and Grace O’Malley, and brings diversity with tales of non-European pirates who ruled fleets of ships. When I’m writing my pirates, I can look at the historical record and know that while my work is fiction, there’s plenty of historical evidence for women seizing command and carrying the day.


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She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea

By Joan Druett, Ron Druett

Book cover of She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea

Why this book?

Joan Druett is the dean of authors writing about women at sea. Her books bring to life not only the pirates and transgressive women, but the wives and daughters of sea captains who sailed alongside their men and shared the ship’s command and the global adventures. When I want good, historical data I turn to Druett and the tidbits she incorporates into her writing bring dry historical figures to life.


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Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail

By Suzanne J Stark

Book cover of Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail

Why this book?

Stark’s book is a fascinating, in-depth study of women who worked on British warships in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some were wives of warrant officers, others were disguised and serving as sailors in wartime. There were far more petticoat sailors than standard histories and fiction about war at sea would lead one to suspect. I found it easier to write my own books once I learned that “chicks in breeches,” women serving while disguised as men, wasn’t at all far-fetched. 


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The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea

By Barbara Sjoholm

Book cover of The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea

Why this book?

Sjoholm goes far back in history to document tales of women who went to sea, and commanded ships, in Phoenicia, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Ireland. There was no holding back strong seafaring women and I love seeing their stories brought to life. Grace O’Malley in particular won the respect of her English foes, including their strong ruler, Elizabeth I.


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Flying Cloud: The True Story of America's Most Famous Clipper Ship and the Woman Who Guided Her

By David W. Shaw

Book cover of Flying Cloud: The True Story of America's Most Famous Clipper Ship and the Woman Who Guided Her

Why this book?

When we think of seafarers’ wives, too often we envision them up on lonely widow’s walks, looking out to sea and waiting for their men to return. We don’t think of them as heroines in their own right, but Eleanor Creesy was an exceptional woman by any standard. Eleanor grew up in the New England fishing center of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and studied weather, the ocean, and astronomy in the mid-19th century. When her husband became captain of The Flying Cloud on its maiden voyage, he took Eleanor along so he could utilize her expertise and she rose to the occasion, setting the world record for navigating a clipper ship from New York to California. Her ship would have been known as a “hen ship” because the captain’s wife sailed with him, but her own story deserves to be told and is captured in this engrossing history.


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