Remembering the SS Goucher Victory
During World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission built a class of merchant ships called victory ships, many of them named after U.S. colleges. On June 2, 1945, the SS Goucher Victory launched at Baltimore from the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, where it was built. It was the first victory ship to honor a college in Maryland.
About 125 people from the Goucher community attended the launch, including alumnae, students, President David Robertson, and Susannah Eby ’45, the student government president and the “sponsor” of Goucher Victory. Traditionally, sponsors of U.S. Navy ships were women civilians and were thought to bring good luck to the ship and its crew.
That August, Goucher Alumnae Quarterly published a piece by Eby about her experience christening the ship. She described the “kaleidoscopic jumble of the sound of the loudspeaker at the shipyards, the flash of the news cameras, the scent of the red roses, and the weight of the champagne bottle in my hand.”
Eby worried about successfully breaking the bottle of champagne over the ship’s bow; she was aware of the recent “disastrous attempts” to christen two airplanes by Bess Truman, President Harry Truman’s wife. “I had heard innumerable tales of her failure,” wrote Eby. So Eby and her roommate went to the back corner of 2229 North Charles Street and practiced with a bottle of ginger ale. The practice went well, and so did the christening. Eby remembered standing in a puddle of champagne.
After the launch, Goucher Victory was used to bring U.S. soldiers—alive, wounded, and dead—back to the states. In 1947, the last of the American soldiers left Brisbane, Australia, on the ship. It also brought home nearly 2,000 coffins of deceased U.S. service personnel who had been buried in Australia. Among the numbers was an Unknown Soldier, who was carried in a procession through Brisbane as 30,000 people watched the solemn event. Only one other Unknown Soldier has since been given a procession through an Australian city.
In recognition of the upcoming Olympics in Brisbane in 2032, a local group is trying to highlight Goucher Victory’s history in Australia with a petition to the Brisbane City Council. It proposes that a small space near the Newstead Wharf be established called the “USAT Goucher Victory Place.” The petitioners are also looking to plant, over time, a small grove of trees in honor of many Australian World War II veterans, including those who are usually overlooked, such as women and Indigenous veterans.
Goucher Victory remained in service through the Korean War, and it stayed in the National Defense Reserve Fleet until it was sold in 1972. The college’s founder also inspired another wartime vessel: The liberty ship John F. Goucher, built in 1943 as part of a class of ships named after well-known men. It was eventually renamed Culebra Island.
The petition can be signed through April 25, 2023.