Eastport, a neighborhood of Annapolis, is an area known for boat building and the seafood industry. Residents of the community made their living working as watermen, in seafood processing, and skilled boatbuilders. Seafood processing, boat building, and other maritime industries were mainstays of the Eastport neighborhood. The McNasby Oyster Company, Sadler’s Seafood House, Severn Yacht Yard, and many other small companies employed women in highly skilled jobs. Throughout this exhibit you can see women working as oyster shuckers, and crab pickers, female machinists, and boatyard employees.
The McNasby Oyster Company was a thriving oyster packing facility in Annapolis. Watermen from around the Chesapeake Bay would deliver oysters to McNasby’s, where a crew of men and women would shuck and can oysters to be shipped to the western regions of the United States.
Conditions at the oyster house were difficult. The work was wet, cold, and physically challenging. Women worked the same hours and in the same conditions as men. Some female oyster shuckers were so skilled in their craft, that a few went on to compete in oyster shucking competition.
McNasby’s Oyster Company, founded in the late 1800s, was a hub for employment within the community. The oysters were brought in off the buy-boats on wheelbarrows or, later by conveyor belts. Workers shuck or separate oysters from their shells and put them into buckets.
At the McNasby Oyster Company, women worked the same jobs as the men. Employment opportunities included off- loading oysters, shucking oysters, cleaning/skimming oysters for canning, and administrative support.
Oyster shuckers opened the oyster with a knife and dropped the oyster into a can. Each can held a gallon of oysters. The shucker was paid by the gallon. Working fast was a must. The oyster shells were thrown to the floor, where they were shoveled up and dropped outside the building. The gallon buckets were transferred to the steaming and canning section of the building.
For more information on the McNasby’s Oyster Company, see the virtual exhibit “McNasby’s Oyster Company: An Eastport Landmark” on the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s Website.
In the 1920s, Sadler’s Seafood House was opened by Herbie Sadler to process crabs and shrimp. When the business opened, Sadler hired eight female crab pickers. Women were thought to be better crab pickers; they have small, nimble fingers and the patience to remove all the crab meat.
Mrs. Nancy Taylor, seen in the first image is picking the meat from the body of the crab, leaving the claws for a different part of the warehouse. Mrs. Nancy Taylor could pick a crab clean in under thirty seconds. Crab pickers were paid by the pound of meat picked.
The second image shows Mrs. Leona Carroll weighing crab meat after it’s been picked. This part of the process is the most important because it assures that the meat is the freshest and has been handled with the best hygienic practices. Its destination is the sales room at Sadler’s Seafood House.
During World War II, skilled women workers replaced men who had gone to war. The Severn Yacht Yard hired graduates of the Annapolis High School Modern Machine Shop program funded by the National Defense Training Program. Many of these women lived in the Eastport area.
This February 3, 1943 Evening Capital article demonstrates how women made-up labor shortages in non-traditional trades. Edward F. Mason, owner of the Severn Yacht Yard, was interviewed about his role as an instructor at Annapolis High School and hired many of his former female students to work in his boatyard. “The work these ladies do is by no means easy,” said Mr. Mason, “They are engaged in all kinds of repair work on boats, they haul the boats on the railway, clean the bottoms, scrape off barnacles, and do sanding, painting, and varnishing. They also install and repair engines.”