A Woman to Know: Ida Lewis

None but a donkey would consider it 'unfeminine' to save lives. — Ida Lewis

(image via Library of Congress)

Ida Lewis grew up in the Lime Rock Lighthouse, just outside Newport, Rhode Island. There, under the care of her father, Captain Hosea Lewis, she learned to swim in the open ocean, row her siblings across the water to school and take care of the giant light guiding sailors to shore.

When Ida was just 15, both her parents fell ill. In addition to running the household and raising her brothers and sisters, Ida assumed all the lighthouse keeper's responsibilities. She lit the light at sunset and extinguished it at dawn. She polished the windows and helped sailors navigate the rocky crags. And, most famously, she rescued downed men.

Throughout her three decades as lighthouse keeper, Ida saved 18 men from shipwrecks and storms. Even President Ulysses S. Grant heard of her heroism, asking to meet her in 1881, when he awarded her the U.S. government's Gold Lifesaving Medal.

When Ida died in 1911, the people of Newport renamed Lime Rock in her honor. Today, the Ida Lewis Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in America named after its previous keeper.

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