Loretta Howard: The “Steel Magnolia” of Jeffersonville, Indiana

(Originally posted to Facebook on March 18th, 2021)
>In honor of Women’s History Month, we would like to tell you about someone without whom our museum might never have existed: Loretta Howard, a woman so remarkable that some at the museum still call her the “Steel Magnolia of Jeffersonville”.

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Loretta Maude Wooden (ca. 1905)


Loretta Maude Wooden was born in 1885 in Kent, Indiana. On June 23rd, 1908, at the age of 23, she married James E. Howard, the younger son of Edmonds and Laura Howard. With the death of Edmonds in 1919, James (we call him Captain Jim) took over the family’s shipbuilding business with his older brother Clyde, and in 1923 he became the company’s sole owner, with Loretta as vice president. To quote river legend Capt. Alan L. Bates, in Loretta “Jim had found a personal and business helpmate of the finest quality”.

In her role as vice president, Loretta acted as the company’s business manager, handling financial and administrative matters while her husband ran the shipyard. Since steamboat building was not as wildly profitable as it had once been, Loretta also raised chickens and sold produce from her garden to help support the family. In 1941, the Howards sold the shipyard to the federal government and retired to their mansion.

May be an image of 1 personLoretta Howard tending to her chickens. Her son Ed. J. Howard is in her arms (ca. 1910)


It had long been Capt. Jim’s dream to turn his family’s home into a museum dedicated to their legacy and to river history, but he sadly died in 1956 before he could see this fulfilled. Loretta made it her mission to see her late husband’s dream turned into a reality, and in 1958 the Howard National Steamboat Museum (now shortened to the Howard Steamboat Museum) was chartered thanks to her hard work and dedication. In addition to founding the museum, Loretta was also its first employee, giving tours of the first two floors while living in a small apartment on the third floor.

May be an image of 1 personLoretta Howard with her husband, Capt. Jim Howard 


Even in her old age, Loretta maintained her determined and independent spirit. When asked if she was afraid to stay alone in the mansion, she replied, “I’ve got a pistol and a baseball bat. I’d like to see somebody try to break in here!” Although she moved out of the house in 1970 (climbing up and down multiple flights of stairs had become a bit much by that point), Loretta remained involved in the Jeffersonville community as a leading member of several clubs and institutions. On September 16th, 1978, Loretta Howard died at the age of 93, leaving behind a truly remarkable legacy that will always be remembered here at the Howard Steamboat Museum.

May be an image of 1 person, standing and brick wallLoretta Howard on the porch of the Howard Steamboat Museum (ca. mid-1960’s)



Bates, Alan L. “Loretta Howard”, in The Waterways Journal. June 25, 2007.

Howard, Loretta. Transcript of Personal Correspondence. Unknown date. (Found in papers of Ed. J. Howard Estate).

Howard, Loretta. “Transcription of Loretta Howard” (Taped Interview). June 5, 1977.

“Mrs. Howard, grand lady of river lore, dies at 93”. The Courier Journal (Staff and Special Dispatches). September 18, 1978.

Sutton, Carol. “Captain’s Widow To Turn Mansion Into Museum of Steamboating Era”. The Courier Journal. February 17, 1957.