A poem by Anne Grant about Newport lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis (1842-1911).
Ida Lewis was born in 1842 to Idawalley Zoradia Willey and Captain Hosea Lewis of Newport, Rhode Island. In 1857, the family moved to Lime Rock in the harbor, where Ida’s father was lighthouse keeper.
Shortly after their move, Captain Lewis suffered a stroke, and Ida gradually assumed his responsibilities. In 1879, seven years after her father’s death, the federal government officially appointed her keeper of the light, which she had been tending for more than twenty years.
The rescues and award ceremony described in this story were reported by George D. Brewerton in 1869 and certified by Ida Lewis. Though other women tended lighthouses and saved lives, Ida Lewis became an instant celebrity. Thousands came to visit her, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. Never comfortable with such public adoration, Ida Lewis preferred to live modestly and made her last rescue in 1904 when she was 63.
In October 1911, a new waterways administration in Washington proposed closing the Lime Rock lighthouse. Dismayed by the news, Lewis suffered a paralytic stroke and died that month at the age of 69.
Lime Rock and its lighthouse became the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. The Rescue and other Lewis memorabilia are displayed in the Marine Museum of the Newport Historical Society.
In 1996, the United States Coast Guard named the first of its new Keeper class of ocean-going buoy tenders in honor of Ida Lewis. Reporter Celeste Katz described the Ida Lewis as having the most advanced technology yet for radar and mapping capabilities on a high-resolution screen, space-age navigation equipment, twin Z-drive engines and fully electronic controls.
With a crew of 18 men and women operating out of Coddington Cove, the high tech buoy tender was designed to “maintain aids to navigation over a wide area, as well as conduct search-and-rescue operations, border patrols, environmental protection and icebreaking missions” (Providence Journal-Bulletin, December 13, 1996, page B-1. Historic information from Elizabeth F. Hoxie, "Ida Lewis," in Notable American Women 1607-1950, ed. Edward T. James, Vol. II, 1971, 399-400.)
© Anne Grant 2014 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Narrative History