Florence Haas is often remembered for being the first licensed female captain on the Great Lakes and the namesake of Florence Lake on South Manitou Island, but that is only a small part of her extraordinary life.Florence was born in Wisconsin in 1863 to parents Isaac and Isabelle Reimeu, both originally from Canada. Isaac was a handsome man of many trades: lumberjack, deep sea diver, farmer, and fisherman. Isabelle was six years his junior; they wed when she was barely sixteen. After much traveling, Isaac, Isabelle, and their eight children arrived on South Manitou in 1871. During her youth Florence learned the skill of sailing from her father. Florence at the age of 16 married Joseph Haas in 1879 in Manistee, MI.
It is said that the young couple eloped because Joseph’s mother disliked Florence on account that she was a woman of equally strong opinions. Joseph and Florence made their own way in life on their small farm near the lighthouse on South Manitou. Together they farmed, fished, and carried the mail from Glen Haven aboard their boat “Reliance” in order to support their three children: George, Jessie, and Lawrence. Florence was also the island midwife, being apparently self taught, she had an impeccable record of never losing a baby thanks to her careful and confident nature.She received her license to pilot a boat on the Great Lakes in 1911. The following year Joseph drowned in Lake Michigan after falling from his boat and hitting his head while loading cargo. He was spotted by the Surfman on watch in the United States Life Saving Service lookout tower but even though help arrived quickly he could not be revived. Florence and her son Lawrence continued making the mail runs for about a year.
Afterwards they moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where they had a second home and nearby family. In 1917 Florence returned to South Manitou with Lawrence and his new bride Myrtle Beeman of Empire, but they didn’t stay long. The three of them moved to Frankfurt, MI in 1919 to work as cooks aboard the car ferry Ann Arbor No. 4. It is presumed that they may have been recruited when the boat made a stop at South Manitou Island. The No. 4 was known to hold the record for most accidents by a single ship in ferry service. So it is no surprise that the ship ended her service on Valentines Day 1923 after limping into Elberta, MI after she struck a rock jetty and sank in 22 feet of water. It is quite possible that Florence was aboard during this harrowing journey. Sometime afterwards, Florence moved to Galena Park, Texas. She remained there for the rest of her life, passing away on December 10, 1943 at the age of 80. She is buried in Green Bay’s Fort Howard Memorial Park next to her daughter and son-in-law.
As part of an ongoing series called "Women of Leelanau", the Leelanau Historical Society is dedicated to researching, preserving, and sharing the untold stories of women who's actions, advocacies, words, imagination, and every day lives contributed to the history and culture of the Leelanau Peninsula, MI. Discover more "Women of Leelanau" stories on our blog page.