Saturday, February 5, 2011

Emma Alexander

No, I don't know the name of the woman in these snapshots. When I found this small group of photos of the same lady over the years, I was most interested in the image of her in the blue jeans and bikini top, and the earliest of the collection, the photo of her leaning on a ship's rail. The ship picture is labeled "S.S. Emma Alexander" and that gave me a starting point to do some research. The S.S. Emma Alexander was built by the New York Ship Building Corporation for The Pacific Coast Steamship Company. The ship's keel was laid down on August 31, 1912 and was launched on May 17, 1913. Originally named the Congress, the ship was damaged in a fire off the Oregon coast in 1916, and then repaired and sold in 1918 to the China Mail Company for use on the San Francisco to Hong Kong route. The Congress was renamed The Nanking. In 1923, the ship was sold to The Admiral Line, renamed the Emma Alexander, and 1n 1924, was returned to service on the Pacific coast routes from San Diego, California, to the bay area, to Victoria, British Columbia, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. The ship went out of service in 1936, and in 1941 was sold to the British Ministry of War Transport Service, survived World war 2, only to be scuttled in the mid-Atlantic in 1946 with a load of gas bombs in her hold. So, we can date the first photo from no earlier than 1924, and no later than 1936. Based on the clothing, closer to 1924. Researching old photos can lead into some interesting directions. When I entered S.S. Emma Alexander into the search engine, all I was hoping for was a date range on the photo, but I also found some history on the coastal liners. The Admiral Line employed white crews, but like the Pullman Railroad Car Company, they employed black stewards. Go to for an article about Thomas Fleming, the future founder of the San Francisco Sun-Reporter, an important black newspaper, who, as an 18 year old, fresh out of Chico High School, was a steward on the Emma Alexander. It's possible that Mr. Flemming served breakfast to this lady. The only other photo with any written information is the photo of her standing in front of the large house, labeled "Monterey, Calif." The date range on these photos look to be from the mid-twenties to the late forties, early fifties.


  1. The name of the woman in the photographs is Helen Matilda Lemke of (at the time) Seattle. She has since passed on.

  2. I just watched Charlie Chaplin in his classic film of 1925, "The Gold Rush." In the last scenes, after he's made his success, he appears on an a ship where one of the lifeboats, partially covered in canvas shows the name Emma Alexander. I assume no one's made mention that it is indeed the very ship referred here. Bill Stetz

  3. I also noticed the ship's name on the Chaplin movie last week..The city of Tacoma was also below the name..