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.
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.