She Launched Three Ships

BACK STORY

July 19, 2009|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN

Charles B. Reeves Jr., a retired Baltimore attorney, called the other day to chat a bit about the President Warfield, an Old Bay Line steamer that I had mentioned in an obituary for Henry "Sonny" Schloss.

Schloss and his father, Moses M. "Captain Mo" Schloss, a Baltimore Zionist and businessman, had joined the secret effort after World War II to purchase the old overnight packet boat that had sailed regularly between Baltimore and Norfolk, Va., before being requisitioned during the war and sent to England.

After being refitted, the old Chesapeake Bay steamer quietly sailed from Baltimore on Feb. 25, 1947, for the French port of Sette, where it was boarded by 4,554 Holocaust survivors from Europe who attempted to run the British blockade and land in what was then British-controlled Palestine.

The vessel, renamed Exodus 1947, was stopped by British destroyers in the port of Haifa and then rammed. Its passengers were removed and sent back to war-ravaged Europe.

"My Aunt Ella was vice president of operations for the Old Bay Line back in the 1920s," said Reeves.

Reeves said his aunt, whose married name was Ella Reeves Clotworthy, had been appointed to the line by Solomon Davies Warfield, president and chairman of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, which owned the Old Bay Line.

Warfield hired her as the line's director of service in 1920, where she was in charge of room service and personal service, and then was given a second promotion as director of steamer and passenger service.

"Old Sol always said Aunt Ella was a natural-born executive. At first, she didn't want the job. She couldn't imagine herself working for men," her nephew said.

Clotworthy became a major local maritime figure at a time when waterfronts across the country and steamship companies were strictly male-dominated.

When she was promoted to vice president in 1926, The Baltimore Sun reported this was done on the basis of her "excellent record of efficiency."

"Mrs. Clotworthy is to occupy a position unique among women in business, according to officials of the company, who said today that she is the only woman vice-president of an American steamship company," reported the newspaper.

"She loved excitement, and if it were a foggy day driving down to the Bay Line pier on Light Street, she'd say, 'Because it's foggy on the bay, we're going to have some excitement today,' " Reeves said.

Clotworthy raised the issue of replacing the existing fleet of aging passenger steamers: the Alabama, built in 1893; Florida, built in 1907; and two aging freighters, the Gaston, built in 1881, and the Raleigh, which left the yard in 1906.

She proposed a third steamer be added to the fleet as protection to cover the service if one of the others were disabled.

"Sol said she'd have to go before the Seaboard's all-male board of directors and make her case," Reeves said.

"There was a deathly silence in the room when she finished her pitch for the three new boats. It was Jacob Epstein, a Baltimore drygoods merchant who owned the Baltimore Bargain House, who finally spoke up," Reeves said.

"A department store's slogan at the time, and I can't remember the name of the store, was, 'Give the lady what she wants,' and this is what Mr. Epstein said."

Contracts for the three new vessels were awarded to Pusey and Jones Corp. in Wilmington, Del.

Clotworthy was a sponsor of the first vessel, the State of Maryland, which was followed by the State of Virginia. Both vessels were launched in 1922.

The third steamer, tentatively named Florida, was renamed the President Warfield as a posthumous honor for Warfield's efforts in rejuvenating the company.

"Aunt Ella left the company to care for her mother, who died in 1928," Reeves said. "She loved sailing on those boats, and I can remember when she'd bundled me and my brother to give us a change of scenery if we had been sick during the winter."

Clotworthy, who never again worked in the maritime industry, opened the Green Door Tea Room in her former Victorian brownstone at 926 N. Charles St.

During the 1930s, she headed the Maryland branch of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform, that worked for repeal of the Volstead Act.

In 1932, she served as one of the first women delegates from Maryland and attended the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for president.

After World War II, she joined her sister, Marie Reeves, in her work with the Daughters of Charity in Paris, aiding Russian and Polish refugees.

"She always said her days with the Old Bay Line were among the happiest of her life," Reeves said. "Aunt Ella died in 1974 just shy of her 98th birthday."

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