Trailblazing 101-Year-Old Outsider Will Remain a Working Lobsterwoman ‘Until I Die’

by Jon D. B.

It’s not harsh, it’s nature. And in her own words, lobsterwoman Virginia Oliver will be out working the ocean until the very end.

“When I first started, there weren’t any women but me,” Oliver recalls. What must it be like to experience the changes of our wide world for over 100 years? We all hope to know, but Virginia is living it – and she’s not slowing down a wink.

Lobstering is her life’s work. In fact, Virginia Oliver is (in all probability) Maine’s first lobsterwoman, if not the modern world’s. At the least, she is the oldest licensed lobsterer in her state – quite possibly internationally.

She’s a pioneer in every sense of the word, and an Outsider’s absolute hero. On the morning of her interview with The Boston Globe, she’s drinking from a mug that reads: “Making the world a better place since 1920,” the year of her birth.

“I grew up with this,” she tells the trade. A Rockland resident, Virginia has been a lobsterwoman since the age of 8. She began before the Great Depression, and she’s still at it – full steam ahead – a century later.

“It’s not hard work for me. It might be for somebody else, but not me,” the 101-year-old reiterates. Virginia works out of Spruce Head Fishermen’s Co-op in South Thomaston. Every morning begins before 3 a.m., with her son, lobsterman Max, on a 30-foot boat named for his mother. Prescot Bay awaits.

Stories like Virginia’s are worth sharing not just for delight or entertainment, but for what they carry. So much has changed in the 100+ years she’s been alive. Yet her day-to-day remains remarkably similar to what it was during the Great Depression.

“There aren’t as many lobsters today, though,” Virginia tells. “They’re way overfished, like everything else.”

Indeed, humanity has brought immeasurable change – and damage – to the world in the 100+ years of Virginia’s life. Society, and the people in it, have changed, too. But one thing hasn’t: lobstering.

Lobsterwoman Virginia Oliver: ‘No Work is as it Used to Be’

Through this, Virginia Oliver embodies the universality of a hard day’s work for an Outsider. No matter how drastically the world changes around us, there is such peace to be taken from embracing the timeless. We all work. We all have passions. And we all strive to find harmony in both. Through Virginia, I see how much more alike than different every one of us is.

So does her son, Max, who at 78 is a marvel himself. He watches as his lobsterwoman for a mother goes about her work: firmly using her pliers to place tight bands around lobster claws. She only does this for the ones they can keep; measuring each crustacean by hand and tossing the non-keepers back from whence they came.

“You know, you do what you have to do,” Virginia offers. “We used to have to haul by hand. No work, I think, is as it used to be.”

When the day is done, there’s no time for napping, or the emptiness of television. After chores, errands, and a bit of me-time reading her favorite novels, it’s time to get back to it. Her life’s work awaits.

Virginia Oliver will be a lobsterwoman “Until I die.” And like all of us, she says, “I don’t know when that will be.”