Episode 216: Ida Lewis

Posted 14 November 2022 by

Ida Lewis circa 1870 via wikicommons

Ida Lewis was a heroine…but she was also a sister, daughter, friend, and dedicated lighthouse keeper, a job where she was uncommonly dedicated and uniquely qualified in the best way imaginable.

Postcard of Lime Rock Light circa 1907. The light is on the tower that looks like a pointy chimney on the left side of the house. Courtesy Providence Public Library

Idawalley Zoradia Lewis was born on February 25, 1842, in Newport, Rhode Island where she would spend most of her life. She was the daughter of Hosea and Zoradia (ooooh, now that name makes sense) Lewis, and the second oldest of their five children. Hosea’s life was on the water as a Revenue Cutter Captain, but when Ida was a tween, he moved ashore onto a position as lighthouse keeper of Lime Rock, an outcropping of…lime rocks in Newport Harbor. The family soon moved into the house attached to the light and, at that point, Ida’s education consisted of learning how to be a lighthouse keeper (which she loved.)

Ida was the strongest swimmer and rower in Newport, hands down, men or women. These skills and her view of the entire harbor meant that if there was a boating accident, she was the one to rescue the people in the water. One of her rescues was so amazing the story went beyond the borders of Rhode Island and made Ida famous. The most famous lighthouse keeper in the world, hands down, men or women.

Ida went viral after just another day on the job.

Ida circa 1890 rowing her skiff. via wikicommons

With the exception of two years when she tried to be a “typical” woman, Ida spent her life on Lime Rock doing the job of lighthouse keeper, and rescuer for 37 years before she was recognized (and compensated) for her work.

Ida, center petting her dog, her brother Rudolph behind her, and brother Tom with two unidentified women Courtesy Providence Public Library

Ida in 1910 courtesy Library of Congress

At the Common Ground Cemetary, Newport, Rhode Island

Ida Lewis Rock after her death when the light was automated. BUT there were still catboats! Some things never change. Courtesy Providence Public Library

TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS

Books!

By Lenore Skomal (they are the same book, different editions.)

Ida Lewis: The Heroine of Lime Rock by George Brewerton is available HERE ONLINE

Middle grade, by Doris Licameli
By Mary Louise Clifford and J. Candace Clifford
Picture book by Marissa Moss and Andrea U’Ren
Middle grade, graphic non-fiction by Jessica Gunderson, Illustrated by Nadia Hsieh
Historical fiction by Hazel Gaynor

Web!

Rhode Island Lighthouses History is the source for a lot of photos and documents about Ida (and Rhode Island lighthouses in general.)

Mind-blowing maps that answer the question, “what’s across the ocean from me?” by cartographer Andy Woodruff.

You can “visit” the Ida Lewis Yacht Club by clicking here!

Or you can go in person if you’re in Newport, although this is as close as Susan could get.
Susan’s camera got a little closer to the yacht club

Moving Pictures!

The play, Idawalley, by Maggie Kearnan, will have its day on stage in January of 2023 at Boston College. MORE INFORMATION HERE

Ida’s Google Doodle

America’s Forgotten Heroine: Ida Lewis, Keeper of Light is a 45-minute documentary on YouTube