Women Who Made a Difference – Ida Lewis

Ida Lewis, Lighthouse Keeper

One of the great side benefits of writing fiction is doing research. You might imagine that there isn’t much need for research since you’re making the story up, but getting details right makes the story more believable .  Besides it’s so much fun.

The novel I’m working on now takes place in contemporary Rhode Island around Newport and the less populated area of Little Compton.  I usually like to make up the towns I write about.  But Newport offers  such a wealth of possibilities that I was seduced into using it as a backdrop for this story and gave me a clue as to the profession of my protagonist.  An architectural restorer.

Lots of research needed there.  And it’s fascinating.  My heroine works in Newport, but was born and raised by the sea  just across Narragansett Bay.

As I was researching the coastal regions of Rhode Island I discovered an interesting historical character, which led me off on a tangent that interests me.  Women who’ve made a difference.

Enter Ida Lewis who tended the Lime Rock lighthouse from 1857 when her father the official keeper suffered from a debilitating stroke. When he died his wife mother was appointed keeper .  But it was Ida whose responsibilities it was to keep the oil lamps lit as well as taking care of her siblings and rowing them back and forth from school on the mainland each day.

Ida Lewis

Needless to say  Ida became very strong and was also a very adept swimmer, both unusual  activities for women of the times. After her mother was taken ill, she was solely responsible for the running of the lighthouse and was granted the position of keeper in 1879 where she served until her death in 1911.

But even more fascinating is the number of lives she saved during her career. She made her first rescue at the age of 16, when four young men took out sailboat which they managed to capsize.  While the men attempted to stay afloat, Ida cast off the rowboat and hurried to save them.  She managed to haul all four into the boat and row them back to the lighthouse. That was the first of many rescues this intrepid woman conducted and she is credited with saving somewhere between 18 and 36 lives.

She became the most famous lighthouse keeper of the period.

Thirteen years after her death the Lime Rock Lighthouse officially became the Ida Lewis Lighthouse.

Many articles were written about her in the leading magazines and newspapers of the day.  To read more about Ida and other female lighthouse keepers:



Or check with your local library.


Last drop of Christmas

The New York Botanical Gardens’ Train Show. 

Valentine’s Day is over, New Year’s is only a memory, so I decided to take a backward look at Christmas and my favorite thing to do during that season. A trip to the Botanical Gardens’ Holiday Train Show, a miniature wonderland of New York City that encompasses 6,000 square feet in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, mounted first in1992, by Paul Busse and a team of botanical artists.

Oh yeah.  There are trains, too.  But for me it’s the depiction of the city that keeps me coming back each year.  Here are some of my favorites.

Statue of Liberty

Like immigrants of old, you’re greeted by the Statue of Liberty and from there are swept into a bustling city, not of steel and glass and exhaust fumes, but dried flower pods, seed, twigs and pure imagination.




The Metropolitan Museum of Art, better know as The Met, unless you’re talking about the Metropolitan Opera, also know as the Met.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though in reality the museum’s façade is made of stone, this version is made from Zinnia petals, grass fibers, arborvitae cones, Walnut shells, cinnamon sticks and many other natural pieces.




Rockefeller Center, the building in the center. Lined with buildings, the angels blow a

Rockefeller Tree

fanfare as you walk down the court way to the skating rink and tree. To the left the New York Stock Exchange. To its right is Radio City Music Hall.  Don’t use this as a guide around Manhattan.  The Stock Exchange is actually downtown on Wall St. and Radio City is behind the Center on the Avenue of the Americas.




Folies Bergere Theatre

The lost Folies Bergere Theater, built in 1911,  renamed the Helen Hayes in 1955, and torn down in 1982.  Remembered here in magnolia and poplar leaves, bamboo, wisteria pods, cattails, beechnuts and many more found bits of nature.





The Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, his only New York City Building. The art is viewed from a sloping spiral walkway.  My choice is to start at the top and proceed to the bottom.  This miniature representation is made of black locust shelf fungi.




Bet you can guess what this is

Need a clue?

Another great landmark that no longer  looks the way it once did, Pennsylvania Station ws a grand old building.






But like this


Since 1919 Belvedere Castle, in Central Park has been the location of the National Weather Service.

Belvedere Castle








And last but not least, Tammany Hall one of my favorites, when the theatre district centered around Union Square before it moved up town to Broadway. The Era  of Boss Tweed, Roosevelt, Jenny Lind, and PT Barnum.

There are so many more, the bridges, and museums, and brownstones and statues. And if you can’t make the show, theres ‘a lovely accompanying book to the exhibit.

                                                     All Aboard!