Mary Becker Greene
Mary B and Gordon Greene
In 1890 Cincinnatian Gordon C Greene took his new bride Mary Becker Greene, aboard the newly bought H K Bedford. At 149 ft. and built in 1885, it was the first boat in the Greene Line. Mary lived aboard and worked side by side with her husband. And ever after, they were made a home on one of the 28 steamers they were to own and operate. She became a captain two years before she became a mother. From Fred Way's Packet Directory: Captain. Gordon C Greene bought her to "enter the Pittsburgh-Wheeling trade, the beginning of Greene Line Steamers, Inc.
In 1896 Gordon and Mary B Greene bought a second boat, the Argand. At 132.6 ft. it was built for Captains Newt Flesher, Gordon C Greene and Captain Mary B Greene was Master. Unable to pay a second captain, Mary Greene took the Argand. She was the only licensed woman steamboat pilot and captain on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. She guided the steamboats between Cincinnati and Newport to Charleston, West Virginia for years. Boat was sold and later in 1927 burned in Lowell, Ohio on the Muskingum River. From Fred Way's Packet Directory: "The boiler was still there in the mud late as 1949."
The Greenland, at 210 ft. was built in 1903 for Captain Gordon C Greene. Mary had three sons and the boys grew up with "home" being a steamboat. Captain Tom was born aboard the Greenland, and the others ashore. Mary became well-known and respected along the inland waters not only for her capabilities with a steamboat, but due to the wonderful qualities of the woman herself. She knew as much about maintenance, bookkeeping, and steering and as she did about cooking, sewing and entertaining.
By 1904, the Greenes were running six boats and making trips to the St. Louis World's Fair-their first run to the Mississippi River. A five day trip from Cincinnati to Charleston West Virginia included three meals a day and a berth was $8 a person.
The Gordon C. Greene, was built in 1923. From Fred Way Packet Directory: "It was the family boat with Captain Tom R. Greene in command, his mother, Mary B Greene, usually aboard, his wife Letha and family. A bar was provided on the main deck (called "Uncle Tom's Cabin") but no liquor sold. The atmosphere on board was pleasant and healthy, the operation eminently successful in a financial way, and Captain Tom and his mother were generous with invitations to "river fans" who rode as guests from here to there, a floating convention center. Hence many youngsters who worked aboard, or who rode for free, grew up better for the experience and opportunity. There was never anything quite like this on the rivers. When the Delta Queen arrived on the scene, the Gordon was put in the St. Louis-St. Paul trade.
In the mid-thirties when other packet companies were going out of business the Greene Line of Cincinnati held on by converting to auto transport and passenger business. Captain Ma Greene became as much a reason as the scenery for a passenger to take a vacation on a riverboat.
When her son bought the Delta Queen in 1947, Captain Mary was the first one to move aboard. She loved to dance and entertain and she never tired of spellbinding passengers with her river experiences.
On the first of April 1949, Mary boarded the Delta Queen for a routine trip to New Orleans. During the trip she was co-captain with her son, Captain Tom, but was mostly hostess and business manager. On April 22, 1949, at 79 Mary died aboard the Delta Queen, after it returned and was docked on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. She was one of the most colorful and best-loved figures of the romantic era of sternwheeler steam boating. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported, "In her 59 years of steam boating, 52 of which she was a captain and pilot, 'Mother' Greene got to know them all."
Her last living son,
Captain Tom collapsed with a fatal heart attack the next year on the Delta
Queen. His wife, Letha, with four growing children determined to
keep the steamboats in business. In 1958 she obtained a partner, Richard C
Simonton of Los Angeles to save the Delta Queen. Investors
played a major part in saving the culture of the river and steamboats so that
they continue on the river today.