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Text Illustrations
In 1853, Hosea Lewis became the “keeper of the light” on Lime Rock Island at Newport, Rhode Island, Lewis suffered a stroke four years later, at which time his teenage daughter Ida assumed responsibility for the light. Each day included cleaning the reflectors, trimming the wick, and filling the oil reservoir at sunset and midnight, along with providing for her father’s care.

With long and demanding tasks, Ida was unable to continue her schooling, but daily delivered her siblings to class, whatever the weather, by rowing the 500 yards to the mainland. Ida became well-skilled and well-known for handling the heavy craft.


• The teenager gained a measure of fame at age sixteen when she rescued four young men after their boat capsized. She rowed to their aid, hearing their screams as they clung to their overturned craft.

• On March 29, 1869, Ida saved two drowning servicemen from nearby Fort Adams. Public knowledge of Ida’s courage spread as far as Washington, inspiring President Ulysses S. Grant to visit Ida at Newport later that year.

• Ida rescued another two soldiers in 1881, for which she was awarded the U.S. Lifesaving Service’s highest medal.

• In early February of that year the two soldiers were crossing from Newport to Lime Rock Island on foot when the ice gave way. Ida, the lighthouse keeper, came running with a rope. Ignoring peril to herself from weak and rotten ice, she pulled one, then the other to safety.

• All told, Ida Lewis personally saved at least 18 and as many as 25 people in the 39 years of keeping the light.

• Her last reported rescue came at age 63 when she saved a friend who had fallen into the water on her way to visit Ida on the island.


Asked where she found strength and courage for such a feat, Ida answered: ‘I don’t know, I ain’t particularly strong. The Lord Almighty gives it to me when I need it, that’s all.’