Mid-afternoon for some shade and coolness we ducked into the Museum of Yachting which had free admission for the day. I can't tell one kind of boat from another so most of the time I couldn't tell why what I was looking at was special, but then I spotted this dark, simple-looking rowboat and read its label, and this one is special - and it's one that you should know about.
This boat, named "Rescue," was given as a gift to a remarkable young woman in 1869. Her name was Ida Lewis, and she was the keeper of the Lime Rock Lighthouse in Newport Harbor starting at age 15.
Six months after her father, Captain Hosea Lewis, moved his family into the home at the lighthouse, he had a stroke and was unable to move or get out of bed. At the time, the Lewis family had four children and Ida was second-oldest at 15. She gave up her schooling to help her mother care for her father, the house, the other children, and the light. It became her responsibility to row across the harbor to take her siblings to school and to purchase supplies for the family, although she had little previous experience handling a boat (she had been noted as the best swimmer in Newport at age 14, though - probably in one of those heavy woolen swimming dresses no less). By the time she was twenty, she had been appointed keeper of the light in her own right - although she was a little slip of a thing, what the museum label describes as "small, underweight" and a "modest little woman."
Starting in 1858, when she was 16, she participated in at least 18 recorded rescues of people in the Newport Harbor; the first was of four young men whose sailboat overturned near the rock. In one case,
Early in 1867, three men were walking along the Newport shore, transporting a valuable sheep that belonged to wealthy banker August Belmont. The sheep suddenly decided to make an escape. Despite a harsh southeast wind and heavy seas, the animal dove into the harbor and swam for all it was worth. The two men found a new skiff belonging to Ida's brother and launched it in hot pursuit.
The wind-whipped waves quickly swamped the little boat, and the men found themselves fighting to stay alive. Always alert, Ida sprung into action and rescued all three. After the men were safely at the lighthouse, Ida saw the sheep, fighting against the waves to reach shore. She rowed back out, got a rope around the animal, and hauled it to safety. Source: Lime Rock Lighthouse History
In 1869 she rescued two soldiers returning to Fort Adams, which received a lot of press coverage. Ida became the most famous lightkeeper of her era (I'm not saying it's important to be famous, but I think it's notable that she received a lot of public acclaim for her unusual responsibility and so much praise for doing her job with bravery and competence). She received medals of commendation from Congress, New York State, the Massachusetts Human Societies, and even got a thirty dollar monthly pension from a fund established by Andrew Carnegie (who, along with other filthy-rich industrialists, had a "cottage" in Newport). The label on the boat reads that "Despite all the honors bestowed upon Ida she remained poised and modest;" the Wikipedia entry describes her as "distressed by all the attention." She kept the light faithfully until 1911 when she died. The building is now the home of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.
I think Ida's story is wonderful for many reasons. It has great potential as an inspirational parable you could use in a lesson, talk, or devotional on courage, steadfastness, awareness of others needs/watchfulness, devotion to family - lots of directions it could go. The metaphors of "keeping the light" and "rescue" are ripe with possibilities. She is a fantastic role model of what young women can accomplish, even cumbered as she was in the long, heavy clothing and restrictive gender expectations of her time. I'm so glad I spotted her boat yesterday.
For more on Ida's story, see here. Lime Rock Lighthouse photo credit: wallyg