Seagoing Cowgirls?

How I would love to find a copy of the letter Dan West received from seven young women when the call went out for cattle tenders for the UNRRA livestock shipments in June 1945! What I HAVE found is Dan West’s response dated July 10, 1945, less than two weeks after the first UNRRA ships left the country:

Dear Folks:
I like the aggressive tone of your delightful letter, and I have done something about it- however not enough for results. Here on our front porch last night Irene Petry told me that she had talked with all of you.

  1. I am sympathetic toward your concern– very
  2. I am ignorant on the innards of cattle shipping, but suspect that the present policy excludes you from active service on livestock boats. More in the lingo– I guess you can’t swing it.
  3. Ben Bushong [the man in charge of cattle tender recruitment and soon to be named executive director of Heifer Project] is sympathetic with the younger generation- especially graceful bovines- and he is better informed. I am sending your letter on to him for reply, with a copy of this enclosed.
  4. Suppose I am right that you just can’t get on the ship. There will be others, and if there is a shortage of qualified male cattle tenders, cooks, scrubbers-upper, or what have you, the policy may be changed.
  5. Meantime – and seriously enough, why not write Ben at Brethren Service Committee, Fulton Building, Lancaster, Penna. giving him your qualifications for such work. We want a good honest job done by everybody who goes on such a mission. Also give him your motives.
  6. If you get licked all around, and if you mean business, keep on trying. You remember the importunate widow and the unjust judge. That old boy was a harder customer (I take it) than the Brethren Service Committee or the shipping companies. If you want precedent I am told that whole ships from Siberia to Portland were “manned” by women a year or more ago. Of course these Russians likely never heard of the importunate widow- and if they are superior in importunation to American women- well, there you are. It is a man’s world I admit, but do what you can to improve it, on land and/or sea.

More power to you.
Truly,
Dan West

Dan was much more susceptible to “importunation” than the shipping companies, however. To be a cattle tender on a ship for UNRRA, the seagoing cowboys had to join the Merchant Marine. No women were allowed on merchant ships during those UNRRA years. It wasn’t until after the Heifer Project continued on its own, and the cattle tenders were volunteers, that women had the opportunity to be seagoing cowgirls. And even then, the ship’s officers were reluctant to allow women to assist with the cattle.

Pratt and Julia Byrd pose with fellow cowboy Leslie Yoder in Bremen, Germany, Nov. 1950. Photo: Joe Dell

As near as I can tell, the first woman to go with a Heifer Project shipment was Julia Byrd, a journalist who accompanied her husband for a “Heifer Honeymoon” in 1950. I doubt she did much tending of cattle, as she was more interested in the story.

In 1955, Mary Mahoney, a reporter from Corpus Christi, Texas, accompanied a shipment of heifers to Germany. A Pleasonton, Tex. Express article about her trip quoted her as saying, “I grew up on a ranch and I guess that’s the reason they let me go.”

The article says, “But the captain on the ship was unconvinced of Mary’s ability as a cowgirl. Her editor had to book regular passage for her although she still managed to help other CROP representatives with the dairy cattle which were distributed at Kassel, Germany.”

Kathy Baldwin Moore found the same reluctance of the ship’s crew to allow her to assist with the cattle when she accompanied her father on a trip to Japan in 1958. Her story is written up in Heifer International’s World Ark magazine.

Kathy Baldwin (now Moore) and ship’s crew. Courtesy of Kathy Moore.

That same year, Beverly Hill, a high school senior from Frederick, Maryland, had no such difficulties when she tended an air shipment of 41 heifers, a bull, and a calf for Turkey. She had chaired the “Calves for Turkey” campaign of her Frederick County Christian Youth Council.

As more air shipments were made, more “flying cowgirls” followed.

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