In the nineteenth century,
lighthouses on the U.S. coasts
were tended by lighthouse keepers and their families.
If a man who tended the light became disabled,
often the work was picked up by his wife or children. Such was the case of Hosea Lewis.
In 1853 he 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.
In the mid-1800s, it was unusual
to see a woman maneuvering a boat,
but 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 something like 25 people
in fifty-plus 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’m not particularly strong.
The Lord Almighty gives it to me when I need it,
Ida Lewis was a faithful steward
of the gift entrusted to her.
But the reason she was so faithful in her task
is that she realized there were always people
that would need to be saved.
The Church is the “Keeper of the Light”
In the dark world in which we live.
That is the highest calling there could ever be!
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