Navy Renames Survey Ship After Pioneering Female Ocean Researcher, Stripping Vessel of Confederate Ties

Military Sealift Command’s oceanographic survey ship USNS Maury.
Military Sealift Command’s oceanographic survey ship USNS Maury pulls into Naval Station Norfolk, Nov. 1, 2017. The Navy announced that the ship is to be renamed USNS Marie Tharp. (U.S. Navy photo by Bill Mesta)

The Navy's top official announced that, as part of his efforts to celebrate "the countless contributions women have made and service to our nation" on International Women's Day, March 8, he is renaming an ocean survey ship for a woman who pioneered mapping the Atlantic Ocean -- replacing a moniker that honored a Confederate naval officer.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced in a press release and social media posts that he has ordered the USNS Maury to be renamed USNS Marie Tharp.

"This renaming honors Marie Tharp, a pioneering geologist and oceanographic cartographer who created the first scientific maps of the Atlantic Ocean floor and shaped our understanding of plate tectonics and continental drift," Del Toro said in the press release.

Read Next: Special Operations Boss Vows to Stamp Out 'Corrosive' Misconduct After String of Problems

When Tharp began her academic career in 1948, the ocean floor "was thought to be mostly flat and featureless," a biography from Columbia University explained.

"Because of her gender, she wasn't even allowed on the ships that collected the seafloor data that she used to make her maps; she didn't set foot on a research cruise until 1968," the biography added.

However, working with a colleague, Bruce Heezen, Tharp's research revealed mid-ocean ridges that ran more than 40,000 miles around the globe. In 1977, the pair produced the first complete map of the ocean floor.

Del Toro also noted that Tharp's mapping work led to the development of plate tectonic theory. "At the time, the consensus of the U.S. scientific community held continental drift to be impossible, but later examination bore out Tharp's hypothesis," he said in his statement.

In 1997, the Library of Congress, which now holds Tharp's collection of papers, named her as one of the four greatest cartographers of the 20th century.

"Her dedication to research brought light to the unknown ocean world and proved important information about the Earth, all while being a woman in a male-dominated career," Del Toro remarked in an Instagram post.

The renaming was recommended in March 2022 when a congressionally ordered Naming Commission, headed by history-making retired Adm. Michelle Howard, recommended changing the names of around 750 assets across the military, including signs, streets, memorials and bases with ties to the Confederacy.

The ship's previous name -- Maury -- honored Confederate naval officer Matthew Maury, who is considered the father of the science of oceanography.

The U.S. Naval Academy renamed its engineering building at the end of February -- previously named Maury Hall -- to Carter Hall after former lieutenant and Class of 1947 alumnus President Jimmy Carter.

The commission also recommended renaming the USS Chancellorsville -- a cruiser named after the 1863 Civil War battle that is considered Gen. Robert E. Lee's greatest victory in the war.

On Feb. 28, Del Toro announced that he would name that ship after Robert Smalls, a man born into slavery who was conscripted into Confederate service in 1862, stole a Confederate steamer ship and escaped from Charleston, then turned the ship over to the Union Navy.

The Navy's statement noted that "the logistical aspects associated with renaming [the Maury to the Tharp] will begin henceforth and will continue until completion with minimal impact on operations and the crew." The ship is currently assigned to Military Sealift Command and is in the Persian Gulf.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Navy Renaming USS Chancellorsville to Honor Union Army Hero, Statesman Who Was Born into Slavery

Story Continues