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Mary Stanley

Michael Santos

Known as “Fish Mary,” Mary Fernandes Santos Stanley (1894-1977) was the New Bedford waterfront’s only woman lumper in the 1950s and 1960s. Mary’s work as a lumper was hard physical labor, offloading the fishing catch in heavy bags. In an industry dominated by men, Mary gained respect on the New Bedford waterfront from fellow lumpers, fishermen, boat owners and company presidents.

Known as “Fish Mary,” Mary Fernandes Santos Stanley (1894-1977) was the New Bedford waterfront’s only woman lumper in the 1950s and 1960s. A member of the lumper’s union, Mary’s work was hard physical labor, offloading the fishing catch in heavy bags that approached 40 pounds. 

One of seven children, Mary was born in Santa Cruz, Madeira in 1894 to Joao Fernandes and Isabel dos Santos. She immigrated to the United States at age 16, settled in the South Coast and married Alfredo Santos. Mary was a parishioner of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in New Bedford. Proud of her Madeiran heritage, she attended the annual Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, known as the “Madeira Feast,” and joined its parade wearing the statue of a sea creature, likely a mermaid, on her head. 

The sole woman lumper in an industry dominated by men, Mary’s job was not easy. Lumpers unload cargo, and in the fishing industry lumping included boarding the vessel, offloading the catch both on and below deck, operating hydraulic winches to guide and dump baskets, all while making sure that the product was not damaged. Lumpers did this strenuous work while wearing oilers, boots, rubber gloves and an engineer cap. It usually took between six to eight hours for lumpers to offload a single vessel. Within the local fishing industry, Mary gained respect on the New Bedford waterfront from fellow lumpers, fishermen, boat owners and company presidents.

Mary passed away in New Bedford in August of 1977, leaving two sons, Felix Santos and Thomas Santos, as well as four daughtersSarah Santos, Pearl Deneault, Ida Wood and Genevieve Gray. Michael Santos describes his great-grandmother as a “dedicated, hardworking mother, grandmother who never said no and accepted any and all challenges. Mary could be seen slinging 40 lb. bags of scallops on a fishing vessel, on the roof of her Acushnet home repairing shingles, or walking in a beautiful gown in a parade. Nothing seemed to phase her and if it did, you would never know.” Lisa Deneault, Mary’s youngest granddaughter, has shared family stories about her grandmother. One story is that Mary worked for the federal government during World War II by watching and reporting on the waterfront. Lisa adds, “She was a strong woman ahead of her time doing a man’s job. I’m very proud of her strength and none of her female blood line was raised to be a princess or be dependent on anyone … Another interesting thing is she made and sold wine during Prohibition. She was from Madeira after all.” 

A boat with lots of rigging. A man in a hat is in the foreground. A woman in large overalls with a bag on her head is in the background.
Mary Stanley, also known as “Fish Mary, ” is pictured here with a 38-pound bag of scallops balancing on her head. Although her identity as a lumper clashed with the gender standards set for women, she was well-respected within the fishing community.                                                                                  Source: Lisa Deneault

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

Information from

  • Deneault, Lisa. “Fish Mary.” Received by Ann O’Leary, 10 Feb. 2021.

  • “Maria Filomena ‘Mary’ Fernandes.” Arquivo Regional e Biblioteca Publica da Madeira; Funchal, Portugal; Registos de Battismos; vol. 8954; pp. 32-33. Ancestry.com. Madeira, Portugal, Baptism Index, 1538-1911.

  • “Mrs. Mary Stanley.” The Standard-Times, Aug. 1977.

  • Santos, Michael. “Fish Mary.” Received by Ann O’Leary, 10 Feb. 2021.

  • Swain, Paul, and Jim Dwyer. Interview by Janice Fleuriel. Working Waterfront Festival, 25 Sept. 2004.

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