Ida Lewis is recognized as one of the most popular personalities that ever worked for the US Lighthouse Service, one of the earlier forms of the US Coast Guard. For around 46 years, she devotedly lit the lamp at the Lime Rock Light Station and managed to rescue as many as 36 individuals from possible drowning.
Ida was given plenty of honors over the years. But what exactly did she do that earned her several commemorations and songs?
Ida Lewis’ Early Years
On February 25, 1842, Idawalley Zoradia Lewis was born in Newport, Rhode Island. She was the second of four children of a captain named Hosea Lewis. Her mother’s name was reportedly Ida Zordia.
Hosea was appointed the lighthouse keeper of Lime Rock Light in Newport. But four months after he took the job, he became ill and suffered from a stroke. His wife took on the job and tended the lighthouse. Since her mother had to take care of her father and a gravely ill sister, she decided to help in the lighthouse keeping duties. She always filled the lamp with oil during sundown and midnight. She also trimmed the wick, polished the carbon off the light’s reflectors, and turn off the light when the dawn came.
Ida became an excellent swimmer because Lime Rock is almost surrounded by water. Their family used a boat to reach the mainland. She regularly rowed their boat to take her younger siblings to school daily and pick up the town supplies.
Both Ida and her mother took care of Line Rock Light for her sick father from 1857 until he died in 1873. The vacant position was given to her mother shortly after Hosea’s death. In 1877, Ida’s mom became gravely ill. It left her to do most of the housekeeping duties. When her mother died in 1878 due to cancer, Ida finally got the official appointment to become the lighthouse keeper.
Reports claimed that she got the appointment through the efforts of a Civil War hero named General Ambrose Everett Burnside. The female lighthouse keeper allegedly gets a $750 per year salary, which was the highest at that time. The government gave the additional pay because of her efforts to save lives during her service.
Ida Lewis’ Achievements
The lighthouse heroine started saving life in 1854. She was only 12 years old when she assisted four men who were onboard a capsized boat.
On March 29, 1869, Ida saved Pvt. John McLaughlin and Sgt. James Adams from drowning. On their way to Fort Adams and their small boat, the soldiers passed through Newport Harbor during a snowstorm. Ida’s mother saw the struggling men and called her to help rescue them.
Ida’s rescue effort was rewarded with the exclusive Gold Lifesaving Medal from the US government. She was the first woman to receive recognition.
The female lifehouse keeper saved more than a dozen lives after. It made her one of the bravest women in US history until she died in 1911.